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Fresh from New York, Azarenka battles past nemesis Venus in Rome
The Belarusian had lost six of her previous eight career meetings against the American. Awaiting the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion in the second round will be 2020 Australian Open champion and American No. 1 Sofia Kenin.
September 16, 2020
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Just four days after playing Naomi Osaka in the final of the US Open, Victoria Azarenka was already back on the court and turning the tables on one of her toughest head-to-heads, battling past Venus Williams in the first round of the Premier 5-level event in Rome on Wednesday, 7-6 (7), 6-2.
Going into the match, Venus led the head-to-head, 6-2, and had won both of the pair’s meetings since Azarenka came back to the tour as a mom in 2017, a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win in Auckland in 2019 and a 6-3, 6-2 win in Lexington this year, right before Azarenka went on an 11-match winning streak in New York.
There were all kinds of momentum swings in the first set of their ninth career meeting—Azarenka originally led 3-0 and brought up her first set point with Venus serving at 4-5, 30-40, and after missing that opportunity, she built a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker. Venus fought back, reeling off four points in a row to bring up her own set point at 6-5, but Azarenka saved it, then missed another set point at 7-6.
Azarenka finally clinched the 68-minute set on her third set point after Venus sent a forehand long.
The two-time Australian Open champion jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set and kept the pressure on from there, eventually closing out her fellow former No. 1 after exactly two hours.
“I needed to find my game, and I felt like the longer I played today, the better I felt my rhythm,” Azarenka said. “I felt like this was a great match for me. Venus played a really good match—it was good to see her adapting to clay and changing and trying different shots, but I felt pretty happy.
“In the second set I felt that I was starting to play pretty well.”
The match numbers told the story: Azarenka finished the match with a positive winners-to-unforced errors differential of +4 (22 to 18), while Venus ended up in the negatives, -7 (17 to 24).
Azarenka was asked afterwards about the quick transition from hard to clay.
“Obviously playing on a different surface was challenging, but I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a perfect game today, but it was all about trying to find the right intentions of what to do, and I think it worked out okay.
“There’s no better way to adapt for me than playing matches.”
Awaiting the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion in the second round will be the 2020 Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin. Seeded No. 3 this week, Kenin received a first round bye.
Kenin and Azarenka have played once before, in the quarterfinals of Acapulco in 2019, with Kenin winning a two-hour, 32-minute thriller, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5. Azarenka served for the match at 5-4 in the third.
The two also played doubles with each other at both events in the New York bubble.