New boldness a big factor

Victoria Azarenka reaching for a backhand against Johanna Konta during their Miami Open quarter-final match. Azarenka defeated Konta 6-4, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals.
Victoria Azarenka reaching for a backhand against Johanna Konta during their Miami Open quarter-final match. Azarenka defeated Konta 6-4, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals.PHOTO: REUTERS

Azarenka attributes her improved game to a better serve and strength in tough moments

MIAMI • Victoria Azarenka believes she is playing better now than when she was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2012 and warns rivals that her best is yet to come.

"I still feel that I'm far from my best and that's what's really exciting for me, to be motivated, to keep improving," she said after advancing to the semi-finals of the Miami Open on Wednesday by beating British 24th seed Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-2.

The victory ensured that the Belarusian will jump three places to fifth in Monday's new rankings.

After winning the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open and losing to Serena Williams in the US Open finals each of those years, Azarenka was hampered by a series of injuries that limited her 2014 and 2015 campaigns.

But she is back with a vengeance this year, winning at Brisbane, cracking the top 10 for the first time since August 2014 by beating Williams in the Indian Wells final and marching farther up the ladder in Miami.

"I'm a better player right now," the 26-year-old said.

"I improved my serve a lot. I'm just stronger in the tougher moments. I feel happier on the court so that's very important, to be able to perform in a difficult fight."

Azarenka has stressed improved performance with every match as a goal for the season.

"My game is developing with pretty big progress," she said.

"I want to see this process moving forward and just give myself opportunities to grow."

A major part of her rise has been better utilising her serve to attack opponents.

"I always had a pretty high first-serve percentage," she said.

"I think the difference is the way I'm using my serve. I'm going for a lot more. I take a lot more risk.

"It has been more rewarding in terms of winning percentage as opposed to making percentage of serves in. Really trying to work on it and make adjustments to use it more as a weapon. I think that has been missing for a long time to really take my game to the next level."

Azarenka had a first-serve percentage of 65 against Konta, and won 33 of 44 (75 per cent) first-serve points.

She was yesterday set to face second seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who beat Madison Keys 6-3, 6-2.

On the men's side of the ATP and WTA tournament, top-ranked defending champion Novak Djokovic withstood back spasms to defeat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3 and reach the semi-finals.

Djokovic, trying to match Andre Agassi's record of six Miami titles with his third in a row, will play Belgian 15th seed David Goffin today for a berth in Sunday's final.

The Serb won his 14th consecutive match at the hardcourt event and his 28th out of 29, but needed a gritty performance after back pain began early in the second set, prompting him to have massage therapy before serving in the sixth game.

"I had a little bit of a spasm in the back but (the trainer) did a great job and I was able to finish the match," Djokovic said.

Asked if he had any worries the spasms might become a long-term issue, he said: "No concerns. None at all."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'NEW BOLDNESS A BIG FACTOR'. Print Edition | Subscribe