By Sandra Harwitt
So the beat will go on when it comes to the hottest ticket in women’s tennis: The Serena & Vika show will have it’s 16th episode late Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Open. Serena Williams holds a 12-3 winning record over Victoria Azarenka, but this year it’s gone a bit differently.
To be honest, their matches have just turned into a rivalry this season, at least the three they played as we can discount the Williams win by walkover in the Brisbane semifinal — Azarenka pulled out of that match with a toe infection from a bad manicure. Of the three matches played, Azarenka has a 2-1 edge, winning the Doha and Cincinnati final, losing the Rome final.
Who better to talk to about this starting rivalry than Patrick Mouratoglou, who is a debonair Frenchman and the coaching voice behind Williams, not to mention the boyfriend not exactly on the public record. One thing is for sure, he is not surprised that Serena & Vika have separated themselves from the field. TenniShorts would’ve talked to Vika’s boyfriend, the guy known as RedFoo, but we haven’t seen him around — Sorry, Vika.
All Mouratoglou’s had to do is look at their year statistics to see what’s happening. Williams has won eight of her 54 career titles this season,and has a 66-4 win-loss record in 2013. In comparison, Azarenka’s won three of her 17 career titles this season, but also has only lost four matches in the 46 she’s played.
“She’s No. 2 in the world and by the numbers she’s the most difficult player after Serena so it’s normal she has difficult matches against her,” Mouratoglou said. “If you look at both Serena and Vika’s matches the whole year it shows they both only lost four matches, which shows they win most of the time against all the other players, and that shows also that they are close.”
For Williams, the final will be an opportunity to win a 17th Grand Slam title, which would have her closing in on tying Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who both have 18 Grand Slam singles trophies. It would be Williams’ fifth U.S. Open title with the others won in 1999, 2002, 2008, and 2012. Her last U.S. Open victory was a three-setter that went to 7-5 before Williams beat Azarenka in her first U.S. Open final appearance last year.
For Azarenka, it would be a third Grand Slam title and the first that was won at the U.S. Open. Her two major victories were back-to-back wins at the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open.
“She’s a courageous player and she fights every single point,” said Mouratoglou of Azarenka. “She’s maybe more confident the last year or two. It makes her improve and it’s good for Serena, too, because it’s a challenge. I think she’s a great champion.”
“I agree she’s (Williams) playing really good tennis but we have to be very careful not to be overconfident, especially before playing Victoria,” Mouratoglou said. “I’ve said it before she’s (Azarenka) always able to play her best tennis in big matches and especially against the best players like Serena, like she did in Cincinnati (where she beat Williams in the final three weeks ago).
“Serena knows that Victoria is dangerous and will have to play her best tennis to beat her.”
Clearly, Mouratoglou knows Williams better than Azarenka (that’s why we would’ve given RedFoo a word or two about his lady love) as e only observes and doesn’t work with — or play with — Azarenka as he does the world No. 1. According to Mouratoglou there are two Serena personalities: business and pleasure.
Describing the professional Williams, Mouratolglou said: “She wants to win everything she can. She loves tennis. She’s very professional the way she approaches everything. If she misses too much, she’ll say it’s unprofessional to miss. She has to be perfect in her mind. Whatever she does that’s how she wants to do it.”
And his thoughts on the off-hour Williams: “She has two different personalities because she has the professional personality, and when it’s not professional she’s very funny and easy going and she doesn’t look like that when you see her playing tennis.”
Only 19 days from her 32nd birthday on September 26th, Williams is showing no signs of not continuing to focus on life as a tennis player.
“She is the same since I know her,” Mouratoglou said. “She wants to do the best she can every single match, every single practice, being better and winning. She wants to win every time she steps on court.”
And for now, she’s pretty much living up to her demanding expectations for herself. The only question at the moment is whether Azarenka will get in the way of her most immediate goal of defending her U.S. Open crown.