Tuesday 19 February 2019

Azarenka faces stern test against Wozniacki

Belarus's Victoria Azarenka hits a return against Sloane Stephens of the US during their women's singles match
Belarus's Victoria Azarenka hits a return against Sloane Stephens of the US during their women's singles match

Paul Newman

Victoria Azarenka versus Caroline Wozniacki is the sort of match you would expect to see in the closing stages of a Grand Slam tournament, but the Belarusian and the Dane will meet here tomorrow in the second round of the Australian Open.

Azarenka won the title here in 2012 and 2013, but after missing most of last year through injury lies at No 44 in the world rankings. Unseeded here, the former world No 1 was much too good for Sloane Stephens in the first round yesterday and crushed the American 6-3, 6-2.

Next up for Azarenka is her good friend Wozniacki, who beat the talented American teenager Taylor Townsend 7-6, 6-1. Wozniacki is fancied by many to do well here following her fine run in the second half of last year, which included her first appearance in a Grand Slam final since 2009.

"Being an unseeded player, it's not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early rounds," Azarenka said. "I just need to go through that."

Wozniacki (pictured) will not be daunted by her task, though she admitted: "It's going to be tough. She's won here before and it's not the easiest (match) on paper, but at the same time, whether you have to beat her in the second round or fourth round, whatever, it doesn't matter if you want to win the tournament."

The Dane said she has recovered from the wrist problem which has troubled her this season, though she expressed concern at the number of players currently troubled by wrist injuries, which includes Juan Martin del Potro and Laura Robson.

"The speed of the game keeps on increasing," Wozniacki said. "I think we see that all the time. I think that's going to be a big factor as well in the future. If the game keeps going this way, if the ball keeps being light and fast and the courts are fast, I think we're going to see more injuries in the future."

Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, the two world No 1s, both got their campaigns off to impressive starts. Djokovic, who has been troubled by a virus in the build-up, saw off Aljaz Bedene, the Hertfordshire-based Slovene.

Djokovic, who won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in just under two hours, said afterwards: "For a first-round performance it was pretty good. I still need to work on some things. I'm still developing my game so I'm glad to go through. It has been a rough two weeks health-wise but I'm getting there."

Williams, who had not impressed in her only pre-Melbourne appearance at the Hopman Cup, brushed aside Belgian Alison van Uytvanck 6-0, 6-4 after taking the first set in 21 minutes.

"As always, I had the jitters going out in the first match of a Grand Slam," Williams said afterwards. "It's never super-easy to be the one that everyone wants to beat."

Australia Open,

Live, Eurosport, 2.0am

Irish Independent

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