Monday, March 12, 2018 -Serena Williams plays Venus Williams in the 3rd Round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are, without question, two of the fiercest competitors in the history of the sport – and nearly every time they step out on court against each other, the result is nothing short of gladiatorial.
Both players possess a champion’s ability to will themselves into winning matches. When they’re not performing to their own elite standards, one booming “come on” our a shout directed at their team can spur on a flurry of winners, suffocating their opponents out of any momentum they might have established.
For Williams, these pivotal moments of intensity often come in the form of clutch aces – aces that have earned her a record-breaking amount of Grand Slam trophies throughout her storied career. Conversely, explosive, line-clipping backhand returns have never failed to turbo charge Azarenka’s intensity, giving her a special x-factor that most of her fellow well-returning WTA colleagues often fail to match.
Serve versus return, Serena versus Vika. It’s a contrast in shots but a parallel in styles. And it’s one of the many reasons to tune in to tomorrow’s clash.
Both former BNP Paribas Open champions celebrated their comebacks with us in the desert last year, a year ago to the day. Two incredible women marked their return from maternity leave on International Women’s Day, a detail that was lost on virtually no one. Since that night, Williams’ Alexis Olympia has been around to witness (perhaps not totally aware of it, mind you) her mother reach two Grand Slam finals, facilitating a recent return to the world’s Top 10.
Azarenka’s own quest to return to the top of the rankings has taken slightly bumpier roads, however. A myriad of off-court troubles have hindered a straightforward comeback, as the Belarusian has juggled coaching staff, fitness routines and schedules in an attempt to get her life both on and off the court back on track.
It’s not who either player would be accustomed to seeing this early in a tournament, the second round in Indian Wells being a fair distance away from the final, which, incidentally, is the last place they met – back in 2016, on the same court.
Azarenka won that final 6-4, 6-4, notching just a fourth victory in 22 meetings with Williams. Though lopsided on paper, in practice the rivalry is scintillating. Every time these warriors step out on court, it’s a new match and a battle of wills – one that is every bit as compelling as it is quality.