WTA Brisbane, Shenzen, and Auckland Round-Up: Azarenka, Stephens and Radwanska Claim Titles
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The new season is officially underway and i the opening week the WTA crowned three champions in Brisbane, Shenzhen and Auckland respectively, Amongst the tennis there was some big injury withdrawals. Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova are just a few names that either failed to take to the court or complete their first match-up of the season.
That did not stop the players from putting on some great tennis action to get us going for 2016. Here is a recap of what happened in the WTA this week.
Azarenka romps to Brisbane title
Perhaps the most stand-out performer of the week was former world number one Azarenka. The Belarusian stormed through her draw to get 2016 off to the perfect start with a Premier title.
Azarenka looked more like her old self, dictating play from the baseline and being as feisty as ever. Despite dominating her opponents all week, the two time Australian Open champion saved her best tennis until the final.
The former world number one hit 23 winners and only nine unforced errors as she cruised past Angelique Kerber in Saturday’s final 6-3, 6-1.
The win marked Azarenka’s 18th career title, but it was her first for two and a half years after injury struggles in recent seasons.
“Congratulations to Angelique and thank you for pushing me – you always push my limits. I hope we get to play more matches soon and good luck the rest of the year.” Azarenka said in her post match interview.
“Every time I play in front of this crowd I couldn’t be happier.
“My dreams come true whenever I step on the court, and I want to thank you all for showing up, motivating us so much and inspiring us so much.”
With her performance this week, the Belarusian has established herself as a huge threat for the Australian Open.
Stephens claims Auckland crown
Across in New Zealand America’s Sloane Stephens picked up her second career WTA title after pulling double duty on Saturday. Due to the rain on Friday, the fifth seed was forced to continue her semi final match-up with Caroline Wozniacki on Saturday with a 5-2 first set lead. Despite the delay to her momentum, Stephens picked up where she left off the previous day, rounding off the victory 6-2, 7-6(3).
Still on a high from her semi final victory, the world number 30 went on to defeat Germany’s Julia Goerges 7-5, 6-2 despite the German being fresher of the two players. The key was her dominance on serve, holding in all 10 of her service games and only facing two break points.
“You can never prepare for playing a set and then rain, then finishing the match the next morning and coming back again in the afternoon. You just have to keep going and do your best,” Stephens said.
“Julia had been playing some really great tennis all week, but I knew if I just kept playing solid I could do it. I was pleased the way I was able to pull myself together and come back and play well.
“Just kind of going with the flow – that was pretty much it. Pretty basic.”
Despite having enormous talent, Stephens has failed to kick on since her breakthrough run to the Australian Open semi finals in 2013. After claiming her first title in Washington last year and adding to her collection here, will 2016 be the year Sloane finally enters the elite?
“We have a really long season – I have to play all the way until October – so to win a tournament in the first week of the year is amazing,” Stephens added. “But I’m going to have many more opportunities throughout the year, and I’m looking forward to all of them. It’s easier to look at it that way.”
Radwanska storms to Shenzhen title
Agnieszka Radwanska capped off her ranking climb to number four in the world by capturing the Shenzhen title.
After finishing 2015 in perfect fashion with victory at the WTA finals, the Pole started the new just the same. Radwanska played almost flawless tennis as she dispatched every opponent including the eventual runner-up Alison Riske.
It took the new world number four only one hour and 16 minutes to claim a 6-3, 6-2 victory over the American on Saturday.
I think Alison was really playing solid tennis today,” Radwanska said in her post match interview. “She has a very powerful game from the baseline – I was really struggling from the baseline. I was really in a lot of trouble there.
“But my serve really helped me today. Also in the deciding points I was a little bit better, and I think that’s why the score was the way it was – it made it look easier than the actual match was.”
It was Radwanska’s 18th career title, but more importantly she has passed Maria Sharapova in the rankings to earn a top four seeding at the Australian Open, meaning she avoids Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza before the semi finals.