The first-round schedule seemingly reflected this view, as Williams' match against the overmatched CoCo Vandeweghe was the featured attraction of the second day of the tournament, under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium in prime time. There was even New York City star power in attendance, as New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony and his reality-star wife, LaLa Anthony, were front and center in support of their good friend Williams.
With most of the focus on Williams, 23-year-old Belarusian Victoria Azarenka has quietly cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament, winning 6-0, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-2, respectively. Neither of Azarenka's matches has been the feature attraction on the day it was played, with both occurring in the first wave of matches, while most of the tennis-watching public was likely at work and unable to watch.
The lack of attention on Azarenka in comparison to Williams may be more understandable if Azarenka was not the current No. 1-ranked player in the world. It's not even like Azarenka has never had any success in a big match, as she demolished Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the final of the 2012 Australian Open, and took home the bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics.
This isn't to say that the attention on Williams isn't warranted or understood. Williams herself is in the middle of a hot streak, having won at Wimbledon and taken home the gold medal in London earlier this month. At the same time, Williams looked unfazed by the bright lights and absolutely dominated her first-round match against Vandeweghe. Furthermore, Azarenka has never advanced past the quarterfinals in Flushing Meadows.
That being said, while the attention on Williams may be understandable, the lack of attention on Azarenka is inexcusable and borderline criminal. Azarenka's combination of power and precision is arguably enough to make her the favorite in any match she plays. While Williams has been hot, Azarenaka has looked just as strong at the U.S. Open thus far.
When asked what she thought about Williams being the favorite at the U.S. Open, Azarenka seemed to have no concern. "I think it's your guys' job to pick the favorite and to look at the draw," Azarenka said. "I never look at the draw."
Perhaps Azarenka truly doesn't care about predictions or hype. Or perhaps she is just content to have the pressure build on Williams, as she cruises under the radar toward a potential showdown in the finals.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong tennis fan from New York that looks forward to the U.S. Open each year. Del also is a frequent casual player of the game. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.
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