Italian Open 2019: Victoria Azarenka dethrones Elina Svitolina in a late night three setter
Elina Svitolina’s title defense came to a sudden halt at the BNL Internazionali D’Italia late Tuesday night.
Victoria Azarenka was a relentless force that she couldn’t stop and with a long rain delay that did not help her gain back control, the fifth seed was sent packing 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 on Centrale Court at Foro Italico.
The two got together for the third time and the first on clay with the two-time defending champion challenged right off the racket.
The Belorussian did well to show her strengths against Shuai Zhang on Monday to prepare herself to add to the two wins she has against the Ukrainian.
The downside for Svitolina is the minute amount of competition on the clay courts this season. With that being a major issue and whether her knee is at 100 percent leaves the unknown thought of whether she can make it through the first set.
The Belorussian has shown no signs of such physical injuries giving her a heavy advantage before the first ball toss.
Azarenka chose to test the serve of Svitolina who did well by allowing the Belorussian just one point before securing the game.
Azarenka followed suit with a good fight that let her edge the Ukrainian for the service hold. Svitolina went along with the pace she set and quickly reeled in the first break as the unforced errors were racking up for her opponent.
To avoid a wide gap, Azarenka battled hard to hold Svitolina off for the break in the fifth putting her a game down.
She served herself into a hole giving the Ukrainian three break points in the sixth but saved them with errors from across the court. Svitolina erred just enough to let her off the hook and level the score at three apiece.
Light rain began to fall during the seventh with the 24-year-old struggling with the first serve notching her second double fault. Azarenka got in position for the break win but a line drive return fell wide to force deuce.
Each got a chance with the AD point but with the Belorussian erring on her chance to gain leverage, she handed Svitolina one more to put it away and take point.
Andrew Bettles came out to have a few words with the fifth seed telling her to be strong with the second serve and go after the opportunities that Azarenka brought on the return. None came during the Belorussian’s service game as she improved with terrific groundstrokes and key backhanders that caused the fifth seed trouble.
Despite committing her fourth double fault, she managed to lock down a 5-4 hold with Azarenka serving to stay in the set. Svitolina sensed her moment to take the break and achieved the goal with a forceful return game that ended things in 47 minutes. The near two dozen unforced errors from Azarenka was the main reason for Svitolina to gain the lead in the match.
Rain became heavy at the start of the second set which didn’t give Svitolina much pleasure as she lost the opening game to Azarenka with a fifth double fault.
Officials suspended play as the rain got heavier sending everyone off the court. After a 15-minute delay play resumed with Azarenka serving only to be blanked by Svitolina who came out warmed up for the break back.
Three breaks of serve were in the books before they took another rain delay that lasted five minutes. When they resumed, Azarenka managed to hold the fourth and gain a two-game buffer.
The delays were becoming a problem for the Ukrainian as she struggled to focus playing in the rain to hand Azarenka a triple break to lead 4-1.
The rain started to fall down even harder which ultimately caused the match to be suspended for a second time with the covers going over the court.
The play was delayed for more than 90 minutes with some moments where it didn’t look as if the match was going to continue.
The time off court helped the Ukrainian, who came out fresh and get herself mentally in check sitting three games down. The serve began in the hands of the Belorussian who drew more unforced errors from Svitolina who was trying to be aggressive.
Instead of vying for a break, the fifth seed found herself facing a decider with the nerves returning on serve.
The Ukrainian was attacked on the second serve racing for the quick returns in the exposed court. A long return handed the Belorussian the set and a shot at keeping the pressure on Svitolina.
The Ukrainian wouldn’t let that happen at the start of the third and came out fighting for every point against Azarenka. With plenty of force, she edged the Belorussian on serve and secured the break to be ahead.
The 29-year-old went after the second serve of Svitolina’s only to see her counterattack and hold in the second. Looking to maintain authority on the court, the 24-year-old scored the double break that had her up 3-0 with the goal on the horizon.
Even after Azarenka found a way to hold serve against the Ukrainian, the fifth seed was on fire blasting away the ball so well to produce another victory and regain her three-game margin.
When it looked as if the former World No.1 was almost out, she scored a key break that cut Svitolina’s lead in half. The fifth seed answered back by painting the lines with precision to take a penultimate 5-2 stance.
Serving for the match, Svitolina got behind with Azarenka getting the jump on her in the eighth.
The 24-year-old even things out with more shots near the lines to reach match point. She blew a smashing return to bring the Belorussian to deuce and saw it get away from her with Azarenka scoring the AD point on a line drive.
With the big point, she took care of her serve and shutout Svitolina in the ninth to continue fighting. The 24-year-old needed a strong first serve but got into trouble running down balls during the rally.
It wasn’t until the final point where she got the last laugh with a return winner. They got even at 30-all with the next point being huge for both. Azarenka got it with great court position to smash it and reach another break point. The Ukrainian denied her with an ace but erred with a long crosscourt.
Azarenka showed no mercy when she put the ball where she wanted resulting in a victory after two breaks setting up more tennis. On serve in the 11th, Azarenka conducted an outstanding position inside the court only to err on game point to force deuce.
After three breaks, the game went to the Belorussian with a chance at making it her match. Svitolina was on the edge of defeat and despite saving two match points, the victory went to Azarenka who had enough energy left in the tank to conclude a thriller that took 2 hours and 16 minutes to finish.
After a total of 175 points played, both Svitolina and Azarenka had extreme numbers in the unforced errors to winners ratio. In the end, Azarenka’s qualities managed to get her out of trouble and into the third round where she’ll await the winner between Garbine Muguruza and Danielle Collins on Thursday.