Whatever difficulties Victoria Azarenka may experience she knows that the Qatar Total Open will invariably provide a safe refuge. The former world No 1 took her unbeaten run at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex to a remarkable 14 matches when she beat Venus Williams 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first final for more than a year.
Azarenka, who will meet Lucie Safarova in Saturday’s final, lost her first match in this tournament four years ago but has not looked back since. She won the title in 2012 and 2013, missed the 2014 event because of injury and is now just one win away from a third triumph. Victory would see her presented with the “Diamond Ball” trophy which the tournament has put up as a reward for the first player to win it three times.
The last 13 months have not been easy for the 25-year-old from Belarus, who missed most of last season through injury and has subsequently slipped down the world rankings to her present position at No 48. She began her comeback last month, only to be shocked at the end of the Australian Open when Sam Sumyk, her coach of the previous five years, told her he was ending their partnership.
For the last fortnight Azarenka has been working with Wim Fissette, who used to coach Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep. Their first tournament together has been an outstanding success. Azarenka had already beaten Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki and followed that with a gritty display to knock out Williams, who has been enjoying her best run for five years.
In the quarter-finals Williams had overcome Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 8. The former Wimbledon champion maintained her form in the first set of her semi-final, but Azarenka is a determined competitor and the match soon developed into a closely fought contest. By the end Williams had won two more points than her opponent and had had six more opportunities to break serve, but the key to the outcome was Azarenka’s consistently superior play on the big points.
Azarenka has not won a title since the summer of 2013 and last played in a final in Brisbane 13 months ago. However, she played well in Australia last month and her results this week suggest that it will not be long before she is back in the world’s top 10.
In the other semi-final Safarova needed only 77 minutes to beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-2. The first set was reasonably close, but Safarova quickly took control of the second, in which she dropped only eight points on her serve. Suarez Navarro, who is ranked one place higher than the Czech at No 14 in the world, has now lost all three of their meetings.
“I felt pretty confident from the beginning,” Safarova said. “I was feeling that my game is working against Carla. That was the plan - to play aggressive and take her time away, because she’s very good in defence. She can also play very strong from her backhand side, so I was trying to push more through the forehand and be the first one who is taking the point.”
At 28 Safarova is a comparatively late developer. Although she has won only one title since 2008, she has performed consistently well at the bigger events in the last year or two. She reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon last summer.
“I had a really good season last year and I’ve been working hard in the off-season, so I think I'm playing my best tennis now,” she said. “My highest ranking is No 14. It’s always been my dream to reach the top 10, but everything has to click together for that to happen. That’s my goal.”Reuse content