Victoria Azarenka overcame a worrying early fall and a big-hitting Ekaterina Alexandrova to progress into the second round of The Championships.
Alex Macpherson
July 2, 2018

LONDON, Great Britain - The unseeded Victoria Azarenka battled hard through one set, then pulled away in the second, sealing her first Grand Slam win in 12 months 7-6(4), 6-3 over Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round of Wimbledon.

The Belarusian had come into The Championships with question marks over her form: after seemingly announcing her return to the elite with a semifinal run in Miami in March, Azarenka had gone just 2-6 in her subsequent European tournaments. Moreover, she was up against an opponent with fond memories on grass: Alexandrova's breakthrough had come at Wimbledon in 2016 when, as one of the last direct entrants to the qualifying draw, the Russian had fought through two overtime epics to make her main draw debut - where she promptly upset Ana Ivanovic in the first round.

Azarenka found little respite from her tribulations in the early going today. A double fault and three loose errors had immediately cancelled out her opening break to level the score at 1-1 when the World No.87 slipped on the grass and, in visible pain, required her right knee to be heavily strapped.

"It wasn't pleasant," she grimaced afterwards. "It definitely brought some bad memories at the same time - you know, flashbacks. I was a little worried. But with adrenaline on the court sometimes it doesn't feel the same."

Thankfully, the 28-year-old was not too impeded to continue in a match that would be a test more of the serve and the first strike than extended rallies or movement. Still, for the rest of a narrowly-contested opening act, she was nonetheless put through the wringer by the big-hitting Alexandrova, who was eager to punish any sign of a drop in first serve percentage or service speed while hammering down huge deliveries of her own.

From 2-4 down, the World No.110 did just that to reel off three consecutive games to stand on the verge of the set. Azarenka, though, remained clear-headed in protecting her own serve to force a tiebreak - and, once there, proved more adept at finding the balance between big shots and consistency. 

"I'm very proud of myself how I was able to handle this situation - to stay calm and to stay focused on what I can do," said Azarenka. "No drama - I think that was really good for me mentally to do."

The loss of such a close contest seemed to take the wind out of Alexandrova's sails, and the Russian lost 12 of the first 15 points of the second set all too quickly. The two-time Australian Open champion's backhand was finding its mark with increasing accuracy - but by contrast, Alexandrova's attempts at first-strike blows were now resulting in a series of cheap errors.

The former World No.69 gathered herself sufficiently to turn the home stretch of the match into a dogfight, stretching three of the final four games out to eight deuces in total and gutting out two key holds. But these are the sorts of battles Azarenka has always relished - and solid serving would shut down her less reliable opponent when it ultimately mattered as the former World No.1 booked a place in the second round against No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova.

Victoria Azarenka - Wimbledon 2018 - Getty
Victoria Azarenka recovers after falling early in her first round against Ekaterina Alexandrova at Wimbledon 2018 (Getty)

The loss of such a close contest seemed to take the wind out of Alexandrova's sails, and the Russian lost 12 of the first 15 points of the second set all too quickly. The two-time Australian Open champion's backhand was finding its mark with increasing accuracy - but by contrast, Alexandrova's attempts at first-strike blows were now resulting in a series of cheap errors.

The former World No.69 gathered herself sufficiently to turn the home stretch of the match into a dogfight, stretching three of the final four games out to eight deuces in total and gutting out two key holds. But these are the sorts of battles Azarenka has always relished - and solid serving would shut down her less reliable opponent when it ultimately mattered as the former World No.1 booked a place in the second round against No.7 seed Karolina Pliskova.