As Victoria Azarenka prepares to play her fourth round match against Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova for a place in 2016 Australian Open quarterfinals, she gives an impression of regaining her old glory. After the injury-ridden two years, the Belarusian is looking every bit like she did three years ago. She was the world’s no.1 player for a while before Serena Williams snatched the honor back from her. In her top form, women singles players were wary of facing Vika, when she had won the Australian Open title for the second year in a row. From the summit, Vika crashed to no.50 in the world last year. Her injuries had brought about a downward slide that looked unabated. But the feisty woman fought back against heavy odds and for most part of 2015, she kept improving. From 49 in the world in February 2015, Vika has made an amazing recovery and as per the rankings released last Monday, she has climbed to no.16. Two weeks ago, Vika won her first WTA title after 2½ years, when she lifted the Evonne Goolagong Cawley Trophy at Brisbane with a thumping win against Germany’s world No.10 Angelique Kerber. The Belarusian had earlier won at Brisbane in 2009 and another victory; seven years later, must have boosted her morale coming into Melbourne. After she beat the Japanese qualifier Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in her third round match on Saturday, the double Australian Open champion is now a force to reckon with. She looks healthy, happy and raring to go at this point of time.
In the first three rounds at Melbourne Park, Azarenka has dropped just five games in six sets in winning her matches and if she can beat Strycova, she may run into another showdown with Germany’s no.7 seed Angelique Kerber. Beginning with handing a first-round double bagel to Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck, Vika beat Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic 6-1, 6-2 in the second round before brushing aside Osaka of Japan on Saturday morning. Although her next opponent Strycova also caused an upset by beating third-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, Vika should be considered a favorite against the Czech woman. This assumption is based on play indicators of her game in the last three matches. In 20 games that she has played, Vika has dropped her serve just once and won more than 70% of her points on the first serve. She has produced 22 forehand winners and committed just 9 unforced errors in the three matches. A combination of a strong first service with solid forehand is a match-winning potion for any player, man or woman. In constructing her game, Vika has showed a remarkably dominating performance on base-line play. Usually, winning more than 50% base-line points is regarded as fairly good. For instance, in 6 days of the current Australian Open, defending champion Novak Djokovic has won 56% per cent points from the base-line, David Ferrer is next with 57% and Andy Murray has been the best so far with 62%. But Vika has made 139 shots from the base-line and converted 101 of them into winners. That is a whopping 73% and no other woman in the entire women’s draw has crossed even 60% so far.
Vika is human and can easily falter tomorrow. However, if she doesn’t lose consistency hereafter, she is the player to watch. Those, who saw her play in Saturday’s third round, would not have failed to notice her resolute stance as she clenched her fists after winning points against Osaka. Vika has been at the summit for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013 before falling prey to injuries. In fact, 2013 was Vika’s best year in tennis, when she reached the finals of three Grand Slams. After winning at Melbourne, she lost in the semifinal at the French Open but reached the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Her much-improved current performance inspires confidence in her fans because she is perfectly capable of working her way to the top and winning the Australian Open for the third time.