Serena Williams beats Azarenka in heated match at French Open
Top-seeded Williams avoids early exit, advances to 4th round
At the outset, Serena Williams was grimacing and cursing and, worst of all, losing by a lot.
Then, suddenly, the 19-time Grand Slam singles champion was putting shots right where she wanted, imposing her will as only she can. And the only anger Williams displayed was directed at her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, while they traded gestures and words over the chair umpire's decision to replay a key point.
By the end, when she was aggressively grabbing the final six games and 10 of the final 12, all that really mattered, as so often is the case when the No. 1-ranked Williams is involved, was that she was not going to let this one get away. Williams erased deficit after deficit and came back to beat former No. 1 Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Saturday in a third-round French Open match filled with momentum swings and one GIF-ready contentious exchange between the two players.
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka exchange some words — and hand waves. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RG15?src=hash">#RG15</a> (via <a href="https://twitter.com/DamJef">@DamJef</a>) <a href="https://t.co/3ZrFzzFdGc">https://t.co/3ZrFzzFdGc</a>—@SI_Tennis
During on-court, post-match interview, Williams told the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd that was thrilled to see such a well-played match: "I don't want to lose."
Rarely does. Williams improved to 26-1 in 2015, 9-0 in three-setters. The American also improved to 50-11 at Roland Garros, making her the first woman since 1968, when Grand Slam tournaments admitted professionals, to have at least that many wins at each of the majors.
She's never been as comfortable or confident on the French Open's dusty red clay as with grass or hard courts underfoot and exited in the second round last year and the first in 2012. She only has been past the quarterfinals once in the past 12 years in Paris — in 2013, when she won her second French Open title.
Compare that to the 33-year-old's resume at the other Slams: six titles at the Australian Open, six at the U.S. Open, and five at Wimbledon.
Azarenka is quite a talented player and owns a pair of Australian Open trophies. She also was twice a runner-up at the U.S. Open, but both of those finals were played against — yes, you guessed it — Williams, who has won 16 of their 19 matchups. Their contests tend to be close as can be. One example: Their most recent previous meeting was this month on clay in Madrid, where Williams won in a third-set tiebreaker after Azarenka double-faulted three times while serving for the victory.
So maybe that collapse and Saturday's are an indication that Williams holds an edge in more than shotmaking. She did eventually fare far better at that on this evening, anyway, with nearly twice as many winners as Azarenka, 41 to 21. Both made 21 unforced errors.
On the last point of the second set, Azarenka hit a shot that landed near the baseline. At about the same time, Williams netted a response, and a late "out" call came from a line judge. Chair umpire Kader Nouni decided the point should be replayed, which Azarenka disputed. She and Williams wound up looking at each other, and Azarenka waved her hand, as if to say, "Eh, never mind." Williams then appeared to tell Azarenka not to wag her hand.
Azarenka lost the replayed point, giving Williams the set, and was warned by Nouni for a visible obscenity.
Azarenka grabbed a bag and headed to a bathroom break. When she came out, she took a 2-0 lead in the third set. She wouldn't win another game.