Two-time champion and No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka was forced to withdraw from the Sony Open in Miami on Friday with a right ankle injury, the same injury that forced her out of her quarterfinal match with Caroline Wozniacki in Indian Wells.
“It’s just I wanted to give my 100% possibility to play, and today was my last test. It’s just, you know, the last two days I tried to practice on it, which did not get better,” Azarenka said.
Azarenka, the Australian Open and Qatar Total Open champion, is 17-0 in 2013. “I tried to play on Wednesday for the first time after Indian Wells, and the next day my foot got a little bit worse. I tried to play again yesterday and it got a little bit worse again. Today it got worse again during the play. So yesterday I thought that, you know, possibly I’m not going to be able to play. Today I went on the court and I got more pain. I cannot really move.”
Azarenka is scheduled to headline the field in Monterrey, Mexico, a WTA International-level event that begins on April 1; she is to be joined there by Angelique Kerber, Marion Bartoli and Maria Kirilenko. “Right now on the schedule is Monterrey, but I have no—I have not made my decision on that.” Should Azarenka withdraw from the event, it would not be the first time that the tournament deals with the loss of a marquee player in its field; last season, Serena Williams committed to the event but withdrew due to a left knee injury.
Beyond Monterrey, Azarenka is looking ahead to the European clay court season and Roland Garros. “I’m going to have a longer preparation than usual for my clay season. My biggest target is going to be French Open, so I’m going to do everything I can to be ready, and, you know, to make sure that I come in in the best form there and try to win the title.”
For a player of her status, Azarenka has rarely been a consistent factor at the second major of the year. She owns a meager 14-7 career record in Paris in seven appearances. In 2009, arguably her breakthrough season, Azarenka had her best result at the clay court slam. She defeated defending champion Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round before falling to eventual finalist Dinara Safina in a three-set quarterfinal match, her first quarterfinal appearance at a major. Azarenka matched that feat in 2011, where she fell to Li Na, the eventual champion, in straight sets.
Movement on clay is key for any player, but more so for Azarenka; the Belarusian is not naturally quick even at full flight, but anticipates the game well. She does not possess a huge serve or outright firepower that would assist her in hitting through the slow conditions. 15 of Azarenka’s 16 career titles have come on hard courts; she was the champion in Marbella, on clay, in 2011.
In order to contend at Roland Garros, Azarenka needs to be in top form and healthy to compensate for her short comings and low comfort level on the surface. Last year, Azarenka was bundled off the court by Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, a match in which Azarenka was rarely the aggressor.
Azarenka is currently not entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart in April, where she reached the final last year. She is entered in both the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May. No doubt aware of her past struggles at Roland Garros, Azarenka was asked to rate her chances at the event this season if healthy. “I think there is going to be two tournaments before that on clay. You will see me play and then everybody will make their own decisions.”
Azarenka was replaced by lucky loser Lauren Davis, who had lost in the final round of qualifying to Mallory Burdette. Davis eventually saved three match points en route to defeating fellow American teenager Madison Keys, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(7).
Spain continues to reap athletic rewards as the Spanish duo of Nicolas Almagro and Albert Montanes won the two clay-court titles on the ATP Tour this past week.
Montanes defeated Gael Monfils 6-2, 1-2 in Stuttgart before the Frenchman had to retire with a right ankle injury. It was the second title of the year for Montanes.
“I twisted my ankle on the court and it was impossible to finish the match,” said Monfils. ”The week was good. I played pretty good tennis, a lot of confidence came back. To reach a final again was pretty exciting. I had a bad experience (today) but hopefully it will be better soon and I can get back to my best level and try to reach some other finals.”
Meanwhile in Bastad, Sweden, Nicolas Almagro defeated defending champion Robin Soderling in three sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 to capture the SkiStar Swedish Open. Almagro improves to an impressive 6-2 in ATP finals, although one wonders why we don’t see this more often from him on the red clay.
“I didn’t play very well in the 2007 final here, but today I fought very hard and I’m really happy with the physical and mental sides to my game,” said Almagro. “It was a big match, a big fight and we were both battling like gladiators. Robin is a great player and I’m sure he will have many more chances to win this tournament in the future.”
The victories are important for the ranking points that both Spaniards will add to their 2010 totals. With the North American hard-court swing about to start I wouldn’t expect we see any results like this from either player for some time. All of the 11 career titles between them have come on clay.