NEW YORK, NY, USA – Former champion Victoria Azarenka started her campaign at the Western & Southern Open with an emphatic 6-2, 6-3 win over number 15 seeded Donna Vekic, taking just over an hour to seal her first victory of 2020.
Prior to the close of the tour, the two-time Australian Open champion lost her opening match in Acapulco to Tamara Zidansek, and was beaten last week in the opening round of the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopedics by Venus Williams, but he kicked off his third tournament of 2020 with a 71-minute win over world number 24.
Azarenka’s win is the best in terms of rankings since last year’s Western & Southern Open, where she beat then world number 12 Belinda Bencic with a first-round retirement where Azarenka was leading 6-4, 1 -0. It is the first victory of the Belarusian in a match that ended on a top 30 since last May in Rome, where she dethroned the two-time champion Elina Svitolina.
“I’m very happy, honestly, to win a game. It’s been about a year,” Azarenka told reporters after the game. “I haven’t played much, but it’s still like finally getting over that central hump a bit and being able to close the game and stay strong throughout the game was very important to me.
“I didn’t think much about Lexington today. It was my first tournament, and, you know, it wasn’t in my favor, but towards the end I felt like I was getting into the rhythm there. Today I started from what I was working on and try to do it today and start playing better, it’s only when you play Venus Williams and you finally start playing at 6-3, 4-0, it’s a little too late.
“I was unlucky there … but in that match I was able to find something that would work for me maybe later, which was good, that I also feel a little personal growth for me, and build from that .
“Today was a day that really showed that what I’ve been working on can put him in a match situation, and I just want to keep going that way.”
During last year’s hardcourt summer season, Vekic took two wins over the former world number 1 in two events – in San Jose and at the traditional home of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati – but has never found the same level of facing what was largely a vintage Azarenka in their third overall fight.
“It’s hard to go back to the past year [matches]… I was well aware of what she does on the pitch, and I feel like in a couple of previous matches, especially in San Jose when we played, I had a lot of opportunities, but I let them go and she stayed really strong. He played very well, but today I felt like I had a good start and I kept my foot on the accelerator, ”Azarenka recalled.
“I served a lot better today. I feel like I was consistent in putting a lot of pressure. I felt that my movement was solid even today. Last year was a different story for me personally too. I think the biggest difference is that I really enjoy on the pitch, which hasn’t happened for so long. “
The two players posted nearly inverse stats sheets for the match, as Azarenka recorded 21 winners with 14 unforced errors and served seven aces.
Having beaten his serve five times, Azarenka took advantage of seven double fouls of the Croatian number 2, who also scored 14 winners against 20 unforced.
Afterward, Azarenka will face the winner of the first round match between former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, a wildcard in the draw, or former Top 5 player Caroline Garcia.