When Serena Williams was given the 28th seed at the U.S. Open, it meant that someone important in the draw was going to run into her in the first week. That "someone" turned out to be 4th seed Victoria Azarenka, and today's third round match guaranteed that one of the two stars would be leaving New York early. Not surprisingly, it's Azarenka who is out of the tournament, but the story is a bit more interesting than the headline.
In the first set, Williams could do no wrong. Her serves and her returns looked so effortlessly struck and were so on-target--if you didn't know better--you would have thought that Azarenka was just some random soul whose luck was bad enough to get her blasted out of the tournament by the tour's greatest player. Azarenka didn't win a game in that set, but I had a feeling the second set would be different. Azarenka is no random bit part player, and anyway, no one--not even Serena Williams--can maintain that high a level for more than one set.
The 4th seed came into the second set a different player, and Williams--though she still looked great--became just the tiniest bit vulnerable. A tiny bit was all Azarenka needed. She began to put more on her first serve, and she also went for more on the defensive side. If Azarenka had a better second serve, there most likely would have been a third set. At 3-5 in the second set, the 4th seed saved three match points on her own serve. In the next game, she saved another match point, and she broke Williams when she caught a netcord ball and passed Williams with her return.
The set went to a tiebreak, which Williams won 7-5. Of course, it had to be a difficult loss for Azarenka, but the good part is that she fought so hard in the second set, and she made Williams really work for the victory. It was a high quality set, very exciting, and worth the publicity that preceded it.