Tuesday 23 January 2018

French Open: Cibulkova holds nerve to dump world No 1 Azarenka out in Paris

Simon Briggs

"What went wrong? Pretty much everything, really," Victoria Azarenka said yesterday. She was still angry with herself, judging by her demeanour in the press conference afterwards.

Perhaps Azarenka shouldn't be so hard on herself. When you look at the pattern of the last year, a fourth-round exit was actually above expectations. Each time one of the top women moves ahead of the pack by winning a grand slam tournament, they seem to slip back again with a pratfall in the next major event.

Working backwards, the 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur lost in the first round in Melbourne this year. And it was a similar story for Petra Kvitova in New York, Li Na in London and Kim Clijsters in Paris.

Why should it be so hard to build on success in women's tennis?

Perhaps it comes down to the way they play the game. Just about everyone in the top 10 has switched styles from the chess-like tactical manoeuvrings of a Justine Henin or a Martina Hingis to an arcade-game shoot-out.

But as Amelie Mauresmo said last week: "The women don't have the strength to apply as much spin to the ball as the men do, so they end up hitting hard and flat".

Where the likes of Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic create big error margins for themselves, lofting the ball high over the net with so much topspin that it comes diving down again, Azarenka and company need only mistime their shots by the tiniest fraction of a second to create a massive error count.

terrier

The world No 1 was guilty of this yesterday, spraying too many groundstrokes into the tramlines, but she was also put under huge pressure by her busy little terrier of an opponent, Dominika Cibulkova of the Slovak Republic.

Cibulkova always seems to trouble Azarenka, who finds her speed around the court off-putting. But closing out the match has been a problem: she managed to throw away a 6-1, 5-1 lead in their last meeting in Miami two months ago, and ended up losing in three sets.

Not yesterday. Despite letting a 4-2 lead slip in the second set, the 15th seed pulled herself together to win 6-2, 7-6.

"Today it was a great thing that I managed to go through these emotions," she said afterwards. "In the tie-break I was still going for my shots, and this is really, really important for me: that I won that set and I finally made it."

Meanwhile, former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki's slide continued on Saturday when she was dumped out in the third round by Estonia's Kaia Kanepi. The Dane, seeded ninth, slumped to a 6-1 6-7 6-3 defeat.

Irish Independent

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