MIAMI, FL, USA - World No.1 Victoria Azarenka extended her perfect start to the season to 24-0 on Friday afternoon, surviving a scare in the second set but finally getting the better of big-serving Dutchwoman Michaella Krajicek, 63 75.
Azarenka, a two-time champion at the Sony Ericsson Open and this year's top seed, looked headed for a routine straight set win as she built a 63 42 lead; Krajicek showed the fight that once took her to the Top 30, winning three games in a row to give her an opportunity to serve for the second set at 5-4, but she double faulted three times and eventually got broken. Azarenka closed it out.
"She started to really go for her shots," Azarenka said of the late resistance from Krajicek. "I was up a break and she had nothing to lose, so she just went for her shots. She was really aggressive. I kind of stepped back and was maybe waiting for her mistakes instead of creating my opportunities. I have to give her credit - she played great. I had to raise my level when I really needed it."
Azarenka has the best start to a season since Martina Hingis went 37-0 to kick the 1997 season off. But Azarenka is still focusing on one at a time.
"I'm not really thinking about numbers or the streaks - my job is to play tennis," she said. "I just try to stay focused every day and try to be the best player I can be in every single match and in every single practice. That's what is the most important thing for me - to keep the motivation and determination to improve."
Next up for Azarenka is British wildcard Heather Watson. Watson barely made it out of the first round, rallying from 5-0 down in the third set to beat Sorana Cirstea; she upset No.27 seed Lucie Safarova in the second round.
"I think she's a great player and I really like her as a person - she's always smiling, she's like a little sunshine every time I see her," Azarenka said. "She has a lot of potential and she's definitely a fighter. She has big character."
"I don't really take too much from previous matches, because every time you play somebody again it's a new story," Azarenka said. "I'm sure she's going to be motivated and will try to come up with her best tennis. I look forward to it."
No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No.20 seed Daniela Hantuchova and No.22 seed Maria Kirilenko all came through with wins too, but No.11 seed Francesca Schiavone wasn't so lucky, squandering a 3-0 third set lead and falling to Ksenia Pervak, 64 46 75. Pervak's win over the World No.12 was her fourth career Top 20 win (she pulled off upsets over Andrea Petkovic last year and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Peng Shuai earlier this year).
Kirilenko put an end to Alisa Kleybanova's comeback tournament, outlasting her fellow Russian in an 80-minute first set and toughing out a 76(1) 63 victory.
"Even if I lost I can't say I'm disappointed with what I've done here," Kleybanova said. "It was already a miracle for me to be back so quickly, and winning my first match too, and then playing so close with someone like Maria. This has been a good achievement for me. For one month of training this was my limit.
"Of course there are things I want to improve on before I'm 100% physically ready to play my real game - aggressive, fast and explosive. I'm still getting a little bit tired during the long points. I just need some time to improve."
Kleybanova was playing her first tournament after a 10-month lay-off from the WTA as she battled Hodgkin's lymphoma. What's next for the 22-year-old? "I didn't make long plans ahead - I'm going to try to play Charleston, then go back to Europe," she said. "But I just want to take it step by step. It's not like it's going to be a full schedule every week already. This was a good achievement for me, I have learned a lot, and now I will go back to train and work hard again.
"Even if I make mistakes and lose matches, I'm just happy to be out there."