In her first match back since Wimbledon last year, Victoria Azarenka faced the last person she scored a win against, Heather Watson. On paper, the match looked like the Belarusian's to lose with the head-to-head at 5-0. However, being out of the game for quite awhile for the new mum and with ongoing personal struggles, the match could go either way.
Azarenka actually started well cruising to a 5-1 lead in the first before she lost focus but managed to hang on to edge the first set 6-4. The second set got a lot tighter in the closing stages but the 2016 champion eventually completed an emotional 6-4, 6-2 win to progress to the next round.
Frustrating first set goes the way of the Belarusian
Azarenka was the first to draw blood as she got the early break to lead 2-0. Watson, however, had the chance to break right back after a wild shot by the Belarusian gave the Brit a couple of break points. Azarenka came up with a big serve to save the first and followed it up with a well-constructed point finishing with a volley to hold off Watson to eventually consolidate a 3-0 lead.
Watson, in a bid to get on board, kept toe to toe with the Belarusian but gave away cheap unforced errors and soon found herself facing triple break points. Watson fired a brilliant shot just finding the line to save the first of those and that seemed to fire her up. The Brit hung on to fend off all break points to get on board for 1-3.
With the 2016 champion hitting her strides, Watson was under pressure and started to lose her focus. She succumbed to another break after a couple of poor shots allowing Azarenka to extend her lead to 5-1. Serving for the set, the Belarusian however, committed some errors of her own handing the Brit a handful of opportunities to get herself back into the set. Azarenka sent her shot long allowing Watson to stay alive in the set at 2-5.
That break triggered the Brit to raise her game and she ground out a hold to put the pressure back on Azarenka to serve for the set. The Belarusian’s level seemed to have dropped a little and was not finding her range like before. Watson kept her cool carving out triple break points and the Belarusian caved in sending a double fault, once again broken to love and the match was back on serve at 4-5.
Watson looking for a fourth game in a row, however, was not able to hold. Azarenka benefitted from some errors and hit a glorious backhand which gave her set points. The Brit hit an unfortunate double fault and handed a topsy-turvy first set to the Belarusian.
Watson finds her range but Azarenka hangs on to finish strong
The second set started out in a similar fashion to the first. Azarenka once again was the first to break but struggled to consolidate the break despite being 40-0 at one point in the third game. Double faults crept into her game and she was starting to miss first serves. Watson though could not capitalize on the errors and the Belarusian eventually held for 3-0.
The next few games went by serve and despite trailing 2-4, Watson continued fighting. The match heated up then as she started hitting big and returning well and made things difficult for the Belarusian in the seventh game. The Brit was rewarded with a break back point but Azarenka hammered a backhand down the line to rescue the point. Watson not only was attacking well but defended particularly well at one point drawing the error from the Belarusian to get another chance to break back.
Azarenka though was equal to it but the game was far from over. In fact, every time Watson set up a break point with some great hitting and return making, the former champion had an answer. And eventually after almost a 17-minute game and having to save a whopping seven break points she held for 5-2.
Watson, serving to stay in the match, was under pressure. She was forced to save two match points but could not fend off the third allowing Azarenka to seal the victory in straight sets.