MADRID, Spain - Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka needed two sets to see off Daria Kasatkina in the opening round of the Madrid Open, recording a 7-5, 6-4 victory against the Russian player.
Azarenka is coming into Madrid hot off of reaching her first quarterfinal on clay since Rome in 2015 a few weeks ago in Stuttgart, taking down defending champion Karolina Pliskova and former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva along the way.
She channeled all of that momentum on Saturday at the Caja Magica, striking double-digit winners and two aces to claim the victory after an hour and 40 minutes on court.
“It’s a first match, and first matches are not easy - especially here with the conditions and the altitude,” Azarenka told press afterward. “I had a very tricky first-round opponent who doesn’t give you any rhythm.
“Based on all of those parameters, it’s hard to really assess where my game is, but I’m very happy with the way I fought today. I think that winning without your A game, against a player who is in her 20s and in Top 20s, I think is really a silver lining.
“I’m taking all of the positives from today, and try to move on and find my best game. But a win is a win, and I’m happy with that today.”
Azarenka got off to a fast start against Kasatkina, who has been struggling to find results this season and claimed her first Top 150 win of the year at Stuttgart. The Belarusian claimed an early break to lead 2-0, but things quickly got complicated as Kasatkina came roaring back to level at 2-2.
The pair traded breaks for the next four games in a row and stayed on serve at 4-4 as Kasatkina and Azarenka stayed toe-to-toe. But as the set entered its crucial stage, Kasatkina’s unforced error count grew, and Azarenka capitalized on the opportunity to break once more at 6-5 and avoid a tiebreaker by claiming the set 7-5.
The Russian player raised her level in the second set, holding serve to put the pressure back on the former World No.1’s shoulders. Both players had chances to take the lead - Azarenka held break points in the first game of the set, while Kasatkina created two chances at 2-2 - but it was Azarenka who broke first to go up 3-2. That break would prove to be decisive, and Azarenka eventually claimed the victory in straight sets.
“I don’t feel like I’m the ‘old Vika’ again, I feel like I’m a better version of myself now,” Azarenka admitted, referring to words her coach Wim Fissette said after her Stuttgart run. “I’m not basing that on my results on the tennis courts, but I do feel like my confidence is growing.
“In terms of overall outlook, I don’t feel like the ‘old Vika’. I don’t want the ‘old Vika’. I want to continue to grow.”
Up next for two-time Madrid Open finalist Azarenka, she’ll take on either a qualifier, yet to be determined, or the No.8 seed Sloane Stephens, in the second round.