Azarenka battles past Venus

Victoria Azarenka emerged victorious from her tricky first round match against Venus Williams, defeating the seven-time Grand Slam champion 76(7) 6-2 at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

The Belarusian looked impressive given the lack of time she had had since her appearance in the US Open final and showed no signs of fatigue as she battled her way past the American.

It was Azarenka who took an early lead, prevailing in a nine-minute game to secure the first break of the match and then extending her lead to 3-0. She was pegged back to 3-3 but then broke to love to edge ahead 5-3. The world No. 14 held a set point but failed to convert it and three further breaks ensued as the two players struggled to dominate on serve.

In the tiebreak it was Azarenka who took the early lead, two back-to-back winners helping her to a 5-2 lead but Williams, the 1999 Italian Open champion, showed her fighting qualities to win four consecutive points and hold a set point at 6-5. The set point was duly saved after Williams misfired and the battle continued, Azarenka closing out the 68-minute affair 7-6(7) when the world No.70’s backhand went marginally long.

The second set was a more straightforward affair, Azarenka was looking more and more confident on the clay and her confidence grew. She recorded three breaks – including a 15-minute one at 4-2 – to Williams’ one and sealed victory on her first match point when her opponent sent a forehand long.

“I feel like I started pretty well. I felt like she was trying to be really aggressive and changing up some pace, you know, and I think she gave me some free points in the beginning, which was helpful. Then I felt that she was getting in a better rhythm,” said Azarenka, who will play Australian Open champion and No.3 seed Sofia Kenin in the second round.

“I mean, I needed to find my game, and I felt that the longer I played I felt the better rhythm. I wasn’t really comfortable in the beginning with my range of shots. You know, clay is different. Selection of shots, even though I had the right intention, like sometimes I was making wrong choices at the wrong time, but it’s all about adaptation. I felt that this was a great match for me to kind of figure it out, the first match on clay. Venus I think played a really good match. It was good to see her, you know, adapting also to clay and changing and trying different shots.”