Victoria Azarenka: The next big thing?As the Open GDF Suez is happening this week, it's given me the opportunity to reflect on what happened during the Australian Open regarding the women's game, the rise of a new number one and the Fed Cup.
Azarenka: A new star is born
The Australian Open witnessed the birth of a new star of the game: Victoria Azarenka. Her rise has been anticipated for a few years now, but this year the former junior world champion looks set to reach her potential. After her victory, she's now the new world number one and given the criticism previous world number one Caroline Wozniacki attracted from some, we should be happy that she achieved this landmark by clinching her first Grand Slam title.
Throughout the two weeks at Melbourne, she was mentally and physically stronger than the others and in the end only Agnieszka Radwanska pushed her as far as a third set. Azarenka needed time to get to where she is now but she could stay there a long time because she has a strong all-round game, is very assured mentally and her fitness and preparation work is also spot-on.
The Nadal of the WTA?
Azarenka reminds me of Rafael Nadal because they've got a number of things in common. Her game style is based on a high tempo and she makes few mistakes because of her use of top-spin. Vika is the kind of player who tires her opponents, helped by her high intensity, a heavy ball and constant pressure. Her fighting spirit, her focus on each shot means that her opponents begin to feel like they'll have to go through hell to win each and every point.
She's fast, intense and full of endurance, so she can cover her ground and is tough to overpower. She also tends to get a minimum of 70 per cent of her first serves in play. Where she differs from the man from Mallorca is that Vika plays well when coming inside the court and takes the ball very early which increases her intensity during points. As soon as the return of serve comes, she takes the lead of the point and doesn't give up until her opponent is resigned.
Genuine contenders for top spot
There is Petra Kvitova, who has got everything required to become number one herself. Maria Sharapova is coming back. Kim Clijsters is in her final year of tennis and looking to go out on a high. Serena Williams is always capable of finding her best tennis when she's motivated. What that means is we now have some true competition at the highest level. It's notable that against those names Wozniacki is now falling behind and the gap will be tough to bridge. Now ranked fourth in the world, she's paying the price of not having done the hard work required to develop attacking weapons. Now she suffers for it.
The future of women's game in one or two years could well see a battle between Kvitova and Azarenka. This fight will prove all the more interesting because it involves two very different players with different game plans.