Ekaterina Makarova does a lot of things very well on a tennis court but none more than stepping in and vaporizing a backhand.
Makarova smashed 11 backhand winners in defeating Victoria Azarenka, 6-4, 6-2, advancing to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
It was the difference-maker for the Russian, hitting five winners in the first set and six in the second to consistently gain the ascendency in baseline exchanges.
Makarova loves to step into her explosive backhand swing, rotating hard with efficient fundamentals that enable her to hit it ultra-flat with great precision. The lower the ball drops, the better Makarova seem to like it, lacing it hard from around her knees to all destinations on the other side of the net.
Makarova now has 42 backhand winners for the tournament, which trails only Serena Williams, who has 49. Backhands winners account for 8% of every point she has played in reaching the semis this year. It's her "go-to" that she can't get enough of.
Things didn't always go Makarova's way in the match, as she lost her serve at 2-2 in the opening set, but quickly broke back to level at 3-3. Azarenka started her service game at 1-2 with a double fault, then won nine straight points to hold the early momentum in the match.
With Azarenka serving at 3-2, deuce, it was the backhand that stood tall for Makarova to get back even. Azarenka hit a first serve out wide in the deuce court that was crushed by Makarova's backhand crosscourt for a return winner. On break point on the next point, Makarova clubbed a deep backhand return then ripped a backhand winner down the line for the break. It had come to the rescue.
Two points later, serving at 3-3, 0-15, Makarova went back crosscourt with her first backhand after the serve for another winner. The Russian's backhand was the biggest shot on the court, establishing serious separation on the scoreboard.
Makarova faced another perilous moment in the match at 4-4, 15-30, and ran forward to put away another backhand winner inside the service box. Azarenka led 40-15 serving at 5-4 but a double fault, and three straight forehand errors lost her the set in double-quick time. Every one of the forehand errors came from a Makarova backhand.
Makarova was credited with only four forced backhand errors and 14 unforced errors, which typically occurred when she was spinning off the ball dealing with Azarenka's power. Makarova won the battle of short points, winning 60% (50/84) of rallies lasting up to four shots.
Makarova also served very well, only getting broken once and won an astounding 81% (22/27) of points on her first serve. Her second serve offered a lot of lefty slice but quite often was attacked by Azarenka because it lacked power. Azarenka averaged 89 mph on her second serve but Makarova was far back at only 74 mph.
In her run to the semis, Makarova is making 61% of her first serves, winning 75%, and winning 53% of her second serves. Those are all solid numbers that will go a long way to helping her reach the final. Makarova has won 87% (40/46) of her service games, which ranks her fourth in this all-important category. She has hit 16 aces so far, which is exactly the same as Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. She is in good company in her march to her first Grand Slam title.
Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2014 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.