Fixture: Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams
Date: 16 September 2020
Tournament: Italian Open 2020
Round: First Round (Round of 64)
Venue: Rome, Italy
Category: WTA Premier 5
Surface: Red clay
Prize money: €1,771,082
Match timing: 2:30 pm CEST, 6.00 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - Tennis Channel / ESPN
Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams preview
All eyes will be on the resurgent Victoria Azarenka when she sets foot on the red dirt at the Italian Open, just four days after a runner-up finish at the US Open. The Belarusian faces old rival Venus Williams on Wednesday in a blockbuster first-round encounter between two former World No. 1s.
Prior to landing in New York, Azarenka had failed to register a single win this year. But she's managed to turn her fortunes around in spectacular fashion.
Her 11 wins over the last month include a title at the Western & Southern Open and a runner-up finish to Naomi Osaka at the US Open. The irresistible run of victories has propelled Azarenka to No. 14 in the world rankings.
Venus Williams, in contrast, has plummeted to No. 70 in the world after a first-round exit at the US Open. She enters Rome on the back of a three-match losing streak, but has proven in the past that she's capable of bouncing back strongly.
The seven-time Major winner can still pack a punch, as she showed in tight three-set losses to Serena Williams and Dayana Yastremska following the tour's resumption after the enforced COVID-19 hiatus.
Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams head-to-head
Venus Williams has proven to be a tough nut to crack for Victoria Azarenka, with the American holding a 6-2 head-to-head lead over the Belarusian.
The two players first met at the 2008 Olympics. At the time, Venus already had plenty of experience under her belt while Azarenka was relatively new on tour. The American hardly broke a sweat as she swatted aside her opponent 6-3 6-2.
The next three meetings - at 2010 Dubai, 2013 Tokyo and 2014 Stanford - all went the elder Williams sister's way. It was only in 2015 that Azarenka finally got a measure of Venus' game, defeating the American in three tight sets at Doha. Azarenka also triumphed in their next showdown, on the claycourts of Madrid.
The tables turned once again last year, with Venus clinching a hard-fought victory at Auckland. She then blew Azarenka away in straight sets at Lexington last month.
Victoria Azarenka vs Venus Williams prediction
Despite her far from stellar record against Venus, Victoria Azarenka should have the edge in their Rome encounter.
Only one of their past eight meetings was on clay, a match won by the two-time Australian Open champion. The Belarusian is a better mover than Venus, and that should work in her favor on clay.
Moreover, Azarenka enters the Italian capital with a lot of momentum on her side. Her sizzling run in New York proved that the former World No. 1 has regained her self-belief, something she lacked the last three years due to off-court problems.
Azarenka is hitting the ball cleanly and with controlled aggression, just like she used to during her peak in 2012. Her return is firing on all cylinders, and she has been able to inflict plenty of damage with her trademark down-the-line backhand.
The 40-year-old Williams' speed and reflexes will be tested time and again by the motivated Belarusian. And with Azarenka looking hungry as ever, the prospects don't seem too bright for the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka to win in straight sets.Published 15 Sep 2020, 23:40 IST