MELBOURNE, Australia - With a barrage of powerful groundstrokes Victoria Azarenka became the first winner at this year's Australian Open on Monday, crushing Heather Watson on Rod Laver Arena in 67 minutes, 61 60.
Azarenka, who comes into the Happy Slam at a career-high ranking of No.3, fired 15 winners during the lopsided match, eight off the forehand and seven off the backhand - Watson had 10 winners herself but was forced into almost twice as many unforced errors against the Belarusian, a former junior champion here.
"The score was easy, but to play the match is never easy," Azarenka said. "I came here on Saturday and only hit once before the match. The first time I hit on center court was this morning. There were a few things I have to work on to get better in my second round, but I take what I get. I cannot complain."
Azarenka's opponent, a 19-year-old Brit who broke into the Top 100 for the first time last year, impressed her. "She was maybe a bit overwhelmed playing on center court, first match for her here as well. But I think she has great skills. She's a very good mover and has a good serve. I think she has good potential."
Next up for Azarenka will be Australian wildcard Casey Dellacqua, who defeated Bojana Jovanovski, 63 62. "Her beating me the last few times, I had to come out and execute," the 26-year-old said. "It feels good for the last few years, what I've been through. It's a relief to get a win at a Grand Slam again.
"This time last year I wasn't even playing, I was here commentating. I've still got things to work on in all parts of my tennis, but I certainly feel strong. I feel good. I feel fit. I feel mentally fresh. I think all of those things are real positives."
The other Top 8 seed in Azarenka's quarter, Agnieszka Radwanska, had all she could handle in her first round match, surviving an amazing 81 winners from Bethanie Mattek-Sands to prevail in a three hour marathon, 67(10) 64 62. Mattek-Sands came at Radwanska from all parts of the court, hitting big groundstrokes, dozens of drop shots and finishing 51 points off at the net - but the No.8-seeded Pole was too much of a wall by the end of the match, her numbers just too solid, finishing with 29 winners to just 13 unforced errors.
Next up for Radwanska is Argentine qualifier Paula Ormaechea, who scored her first WTA-level match win with a 61 36 75 victory over Simona Halep. It will be a first-time meeting - in fact Ormaechea has only ever played one Top 50 player in her young career - her first round victim, World No.50 Halep.