MIAMI, FL, USA -- Three-time Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus staged a comeback triumph on Saturday, overcoming No.20 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to the fourth round for the sixth time in her career.
"It was a difficult match," Azarenka said, after the match. "Obviously, I don’t feel like I played my best tennis, but those kind of matches are super important for me right now, to be able to find a way to go through. I have to build on from this, take confidence from this match, that I was able to figure it out."
Azarenka, the titlist in Miami in 2009, 2011, and 2016, needed seven set points before she could level the match at one set apiece, but ultimately eased through the third set to win the third-round encounter in two hours and nine minutes.
The Belarusian former World No.1 had 33 winners in the match, well outpacing the 20 by Sevastova, and put 72 percent of her first serves into play, while Sevastova could only manage a first serve percentage of 53 percent.
This was Azarenka's ninth straight win at the Miami Open, after winning the event in 2016, but not contesting it in 2017 following the birth of her son three months prior. Azarenka, who received a wild card into the Miami Open, is playing only her fourth WTA event in the last two years.
"I feel really good playing here," said Azarenka. "I don’t really take too much from what happened here two years ago, because it feels very different from me right now, but, as I said, these kind of matches will help me in the future to go through them."
Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion, will now face No.30 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the round of 16. The Polish former World No.2 shocked current World No.1 Simona Halep in a three-set comeback victory of her own earlier on Saturday.
"It’s been a while since we’ve played, I actually don’t remember the last time we played," Azarenka continued. "It feels forever ago. She’s a very good player, she’s a very tricky opponent, she reads the game really well. I need to be aggressive, I need to dictate, because she gets a lot of balls back, and she’s very good on the counter-attack."
Sevastova took an early lead in the opening set, holding for 1-0 with a wily drop shot and then breaking an error-prone Azarenka in the next game. But the Belarusian got back on serve at 2-1 with her typical baseline-hugging aggression that served her well in her earlier wins over Americans CiCi Bellis and Madison Keys.
But Azarenka struggled with keeping the ball in play during the set, and a plethora of errors while serving at 3-2 allowed Sevastova to go up a break once more. The Latvian continued to find the most acute angles to bemuse Azarenka, forcing the former World No.1 into groundstroke miscues or moving the wrong way.
Serving at 5-3, Sevastova had one set point erased by an Azarenka forehand winner down the line. But a brilliant backhand down the line behind Azarenka gave Sevastova a second chance to close out the opener, which she took when a strong serve was returned wide.
Azarenka cut down on her unforced errors dramatically at the start of the second set, and it immediately paid dividends, as the Belarusian leapt out to an advantage, clinching a 3-1 lead with a divine backhand passing shot. The backhand continued to serve Azarenka well as she advanced to 5-3, giving her a chance to serve out the second set.
But, in that marathon game, Azarenka and Sevastova constantly vacillated between set point and break point, featuring all-court tennis from both players. After staving off three set points, Sevastova reached break point for the fourth time with a forehand winner off of an Azarenka drop shot, and that one was converted when an Azarenka forehand went wide.
Back on serve, Sevastova did her best to close out the match in straight sets, but another lengthy game put her at odds with that plan. The Latvian reached 40-0 but saw that lead evaporate, and she suddenly had to contend with four more set points for Azarenka. Solid serves helped to save the first three, but an overhead miss by Sevastova off of a deep Azarenka forehand let the Belarusian tie up the match at one set all.
There was no quit in Sevastova despite losing the second set in that manner, and she reached break point in the first game of the decider behind a forehand winner. But a forehand mistake sent the game back to deuce, and Azarenka would hold for 1-0.
Azarenka then began her march to the comprehensive third-set victory, breaking for a 3-1 lead behind multiple forehand winners, as well as an unreturnable backhand drop shot, giving the crafty Sevastova a taste of her own medicine. Azarenka broke again for 5-1, setting up her shot to close out the match.
Sevastova initially took advantage of a shaky Azarenka, reaching 0-30, but the aggressive game of the Belarusian won her the next three points to finally reach match point. A backhand unforced error by Sevastova ended the match and sent Azarenka into the fourth round at her second tournament of the year.
"Physically, I feel okay," declared Azarenka. "I definitely need to play more matches to be more consistent. I was okay out there playing, I didn’t really have a problem. But I do need to get [more] match-fit, for sure."