Former world number one Victoria Azarenka fought hard to reach the second round at the Western and Southern Open, with the 2013 champion coming from a set down to prevail over Carla Suarez Navarro in a tough battle in Cincinnati.
Both women started strongly, with Suarez Navarro, the former world number six, prevailing in a tight opening set out in Stadium Court, though Azarenka took control to win the second set, and fought through a tense final set to seal a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4 victory in two hours and 30 minutes.
Azarenka edges past Suarez Navarro in high quality affair
The first few games were very tight, with little between the two, though it was the Spaniard who drew first blood as she broke and consolidated for a 5-2 lead, though Azarenka saved two set points as she fought back to level at 5-5. With neither faltering afterwards, a tiebreak ensued, and it was Suarez Navarro who proved the strongest, winning three points in a row from 4-5 down to claim the opener in an hour.
Despite losing the opening set, Azarenka was playing at a high level, and applied the pressure early on against Suarez Navarro, breaking after missing prior opportunities earlier on in the set and consolidating for a 5-2 lead in the second set. And, with the Spaniard seemingly struggling with what appeared to be a hip issue, the Belarusian broke for a second time to force a decider between the two.
Azarenka undoubtedly had the momentum heading into the decider, and as she quickly took a 3-0 lead in the decider, it seemed that she could run away with the match. However, despite her hip problem, Suarez Navarro valiantly fought back to level at 3-3, and it seemed as she levelled again for 4-4 that the match could go all the way to a breaker. Yet, despite the Spaniard’s comeback, Azarenka remained composed, and held serve before breaking for a final time to seal a hard-fought victory.
Since her return to tour, Azarenka has undoubtedly had her ups and down, but she put in a very solid performance today, with the two-time Grand Slam champion striking an impressive 55 winners and just 38 unforced errors on her way to victory. She has another tricky match next, with Caroline Garcia waiting in the second round.