Clijsters, Azarenka Ambushed in Desert

Indian Wells Masters 2010
By Hiland Doolittle, March 17th, 2010

Victoria AzarenkaBookmaker favorites Kim Clijsters and 3rd seeded Victoria Azarenka fell prey to the incredible upset trend that has prevailed throughout the 2010 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. For Clijsters, the loss to Russian Alisa Kleybanova ended a fifteen match winning streak at the desert venue and was a stunning blow to her career comeback. Combined with her humiliating loss to Nadia Petrova (6-0, 6-1) in Melbourne, it is clear that Clijsters has to re-focus a bit.

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The third seeded Azarenka fell prey to Maria Jose Sanchez 7-6(4), 6-2 in another monumental upset. The loss was Azarenka’s earliest exit in an event this season, but served as a reminder that when things start to go badly for the power hitter, they go very badly, very rapidly. Many experts felt this was Azarenka’s tournament to win and with the $3.6 million purse, there should be no reason for distraction.

When the tournament began, there were six former Indian Wells champions in the draw. Only last year’s champion, Vera Zvonareva is still alive. It seems the wannabes are a bit hungrier than the tour’s higher ranked brand names.

Zvonareva jumped into the fourth round with a convincing win over Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-3 on Monday. The 14th seed is building a nice Indian Wells 8 match win streak of her own. Her overall record in this event is 20-4. Monday, she used a powerful first serve to capture 81 percent of her service points. She only converted on 3 of 14 break point opportunities, but that’s all she needed to advance.

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Zvonareva will next meet tough Aussie Samantha Stosur, the 8 seed. Stosur and Zvonareva have played five times previously with the Aussie holding a 3-2 lead. Stosur is a gritty competitor who has yet to lose a set at Indian Wells and dispatched Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenko 6-3, 6-0 in 73 minutes. Zvonareva enjoys a 14-3 season record while Stosur stands at 7-3. Both women are at top form.

Kim Clijsters is not. The hard-fought 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4) loss to Kleybanova was upsetting because it revealed Kim’s inability to close matches when she had the momentum. After walking through the second set, everything was in her favor. But, an unusual number of mental and unforced errors allowed the Russian back in the match and paved the way to victory. It is safe to say that Clijsters, like Henin, is not tournament tough, yet.

Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro rode the momentum from her stunning upset of top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to edge past Hungary’s Agnes Szavay in yet another upset. Szavay had been one of the tour’s hottest players and after reaching the finals in Paris looked to be at the top of her game.

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Shahar Peer did her best to add fuel to the upset blaze by knocking out ninth-seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1. The two-hour 26 minute match set the stage for a head-to-head battle with 6th seeded Jalena Jankovic, who appeared over-seeded prior to the event.

Azarenka’s surprising 7-6(4), 6-2 loss to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez points out the young star’s competitive instability. The Belarus native cannot cope with emotional swings. Victoria’s serve failed her in her moment of need and Sanchez did not hesitate to advance.

Sanchez will face the remaining Belgian threat, Yanina Wickmayer, who seems to be playing with determined consistency. Normally, Wickmayer would be a strong favorite, but this is 2010, this is Indian Wells in the California Desert so expect the unexpected.

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