Victoria Azarenka not only celebrated her birthday on Wednesday, she also celebrated her return to the courts, saying afterwards, "Just going on the court and competing was so much joy for me."
WTA Staff

CARLSBAD, CA, USA - Though the blow was probably softened by her triumph at the Bank Of The West Classic three days ago, Dominika Cibulkova's title defense at the Southern California Open came to a quick finish on Wednesday, as the Slovak was outslugged by Ana Ivanovic in the first round.

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Things were looking pretty good for Cibulkova to keep her winning streak going as she built a 64 33 lead, but the No.7-seeded Ivanovic caught fire from there, reeling off eight games in a row to sneak out the second set and build a 5-0 lead in the third. She closed it out a few games later, 46 63 62.

"As soon as the draw came out I thought this was one of the toughest first round matches, but I was really happy with my performance today, especially in the last two sets," Ivanovic said. "Since Wimbledon I've been working on consistency and hitting a lot of balls, and I did work out in the gym a lot, trying to get stronger and more stable. This gives me good motivation to keep doing that."

The first wave of second round matches also took the court, including a welcome return for Victoria Azarenka. The No.2-seeded Belarusian, playing her first match since withdrawing mid-tournament at Wimbledon due to a right knee injury, cruised past Francesca Schiavone in straight sets, 62 63.

"Just going on the court and competing was so much joy for me," Azarenka said after the match. "I missed playing and I was just happy to be able to do something I've been training for. I enjoyed the time I had to go through rehab and learn so many new things. I was excited to see how I would handle it in the match. It was a good feeling to have that platform, and I'll just try to make it better and better."

It was also a special day for Azarenka in another way - the World No.3 celebrated her 24th birthday.

Two of the other favorites for the title also cruised in straight sets, with No.3 seed Petra Kvitova beating Laura Robson, 61 62, and No.4 seed Roberta Vinci dispatching Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 64 62.

"I didn't know exactly what to expect from myself because the first match after preparing for the US hardcourts is always difficult, plus I lost to her at the Australian Open," Kvitova said afterwards. "But this is tennis, and every day is different, and that's how I approached the match. I played well and my serve was great today. We practiced very hard on my serve back home after Wimbledon."

"I played a good match today," Vinci said. "I played well, consistent and aggressive - she played so-so, but that's probably because I was playing well. It's not so easy, a tough opponent and first match back in Carlsbad, but I'm happy, I'm confident, I'm playing well, and I'm happy with my game right now."

The night match saw No.5 seed Samantha Stosur beat Kazakh qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva, 64 61.