In just her second tournament back, the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has booked her place in the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Belarusian was up against Britain's Heather Watson, and it was a partisan atmosphere on Centre Court, as Watson was bidding to reach the fourth round of a Slam for the first time.
Nonetheless, the former world number one is working her way back up the rankings, and back to the form that took her to two Australian Open titles. Azarenka recovered from a set down to defeat Watson in three sets, and she will play second seed Simona Halep in a mouthwatering fourth round encounter on Manic Monday. It was more heartbreak on Centre Court for Watson as she lost to Serena Williams in another close three set encounter.
Watson wins her first-ever set over Azarenka
The former top 40 player had never won a set against Azarenka in four previous encounters, and she was already feeling the pressure from Azarenka. The two-time Australian Open champion already created two break point chances but failed to convert them. Watson held to lead 1-0 by producing a crushing forehand winner down the line.
Moreover, Azarenka would later rue that mistake as Watson broke her serve in the following game, to take a 2-0 lead. The former world number 38 consolidated the break with ease, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the first set.
Nonetheless, the new mother held onto her next service game but still trailed the Brit at 3-1. Watson was calm and composed on Centre Court as she continued to apply pressure on Azarenka. The Brit continued to serve well, and force more errors from the Belarusian, leading 4-1.
Furthermore, the two-time Australian Open champion finally settled into this match as she broke Watson back to love, trailing 4-3. Moreover, the former world number one played a disastrous game, virtually handing Watson the break back to lead 5-3, and serve for the opening set.
The 27-year-old tried to remain aggressive but she committed more forehand unforced errors, and the world number 102 took a surprising first set lead, 6-3 in 34 minutes. It was the first set, she had taken off Azarenka in five encounters.
Azarenka raises her level to take the second set
The former world number one had an authoritative start to the second set by holding her serve easily, and she broke Watson's serve despite leading 30-0 but Azarenka's footwork and movement improved immensely to take a deserved 2-0 lead.
The two-time Australian Open champion had to fend off a break point, which she did by virtue of Watson committing a backhand error, and she consolidated the break to lead 3-0.
The Brit's forehand which can be a dangerous weapon continued to let her down, and it allowed the former world number one to get her teeth into Watson's service games. Azarenka continued to step forward and produced volley winners. The Belarusian was looking for the insurance break which Watson saved after a strong smash at the net.
Watson finally got her scoreboard moving in the right direction after producing a service winner out wide but trailed 4-1. Azarenka continued to remain in control of the second set, and the momentum had clearly shifted in Azarenka's favor.
The former world number one created another break point by producing her trademark, crushing forehand return winner down the line. Furthermore, Azarenka claimed it by producing a scintillating backhand winner down the line with the ball trickling over the net by virtue of the net cord.
The two-time Grand Slam champion saved a break point when she was serving to take in the match into a deciding set. Azarenka created her first set point by serving down the middle, and a forehand winner down the line. Azarenka took the second set, quickly by virtue of Watson's forehand sailing long.
Azarenka returns to the second week of Wimbledon
Watson had the advantage of serving first in the opening set but she was almost in trouble as Watson was 0-30 down. The Brit found her forehand at the right time, and she produced some forehand winners down the line to lead 1-0.
The two-time Australian Open champion was untroubled on her serve, and once again the pressure was straight back on Watson. The Brit was taken to deuce, three times but she came out of that game unscathed as she continued to serve well, and extended her lead to 2-1.
Azarenka held serve easily once more in her next service game and both players held to love in their respective service games to keep the final set nicely poised at 3-3.
However, the turning point of the final set was a marathon ten-minute game where Watson had five game points but she was unable to convert any of them as the two-time Wimbledon semifinalist raised her level by producing a return forehand winner down the line to create her second break point chance. Azarenka converted it as Watson's forehand broke down, handed the Belorussian the 4-3 lead.
Moreover, there was a lifeline for Watson as the former world number one tamely handed the break back to the Brit. The match continued to get heated in the business end of the match as Azarenka's forehands and backhands continued to cause problems for Watson.
The two-time Australian Open champion broke by producing a forehand winner down the line, regaining the break at 5-4, and serve for the match. Once again, Azarenka almost handed the break back meekly as she almost paid the price for leaving a lob from Watson, which she thought was going long.
Nonetheless, the two-time semifinalist at SW19 who's currently ranked at 683 in the world fended off the break points with some good serving, and she was victorious by virtue of Watson's backhand sailing long, clinching victory, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in a two-hour and five minute tussle on Centre Court.
By the numbers
Azarenka produced three aces, however, she committed seven double faults but got 65 percent of her first serves in and won 65 percent of the points on it. Azarenka also produced 31 winners but committed 25 unforced errors. In contrast to Watson who produced four aces and three double faults. The Brit produced 27 winners and committed 31 unforced errors. The margins were close, and the two-time Australian Open champion will need to improve against the second seed Halep in a mouthwatering fourth round encounter.