TORONTO, Canada - Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka made a winning return to Toronto, notching up her first win over Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 12 minutes to capture an all-unseeded first-round clash at the Rogers Cup.
The Belarusian had not played in the Ontarian capital since 2015, and lost her only completed match against Giorgi in the first round of Eastbourne in 2014. But, keeping last week's Washington runner-up on the run and raising her game on the biggest points of the match, Azarenka proved the more solid player as she continues to seek a post-maternity breakthrough at a Premier event.
"I felt that it was important to keep pressure," assessed Azarenka afterwards. "If you don't put pressure, she blasts winners. But with that pressure, it's a little bit more difficult. I felt that I did serve really well and returned well. So my first two shots were doing a lot of damage, and I think that was a big difference from the matches before. But the Eastbourne match was so long ago, I don't really remember."
On the subject of pressure, Azarenka admitted that she is feeling some in the second half of the year: she entered Toronto with just a 19-14 win-loss record and acknowledged that she is now "expecting a lot more results" over the rest of 2019.
"It's been a really quite challenging couple weeks for me," the 30-year-old revealed about her hard court training. "I felt that I've done a lot of preparation, but I also didn't give myself any rest at all. So it kind of showed a lot in San Jose [where Azarenka fell to Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals] that I was struggling a little bit with being... physically as ready and as alert. So I'm just trying to stay in the moment right now."
Giorgi, whose run in the US capital turned around a year that has been beset by a wrist injury that sidelined her for three months, did not help her cause today with a slew of double faults: the Italian ultimately tallied nine, with at least one hoving into view in all but two of her service games. Nor was the tightrope Giorgi tends to walk with her hyper-aggressive game working out: an intermittent smattering of low-percentage winners aside, the World No.52 was largely unable to control her power, finishing with eight winners to 18 unforced errors.
At times, the double faults seemed to be contagious: in both sets, Azarenka would offer her own up to lose an early break lead immediately. But by and large, the three-time Canadian semifinalist (in 2008, 2010 and 2011) controlled her own game and the scoreboard efficiently. A streak of five straight games in the first set featured at least one break point; Azarenka captured four of them, before closing the opening act out with her fourth ace.
In contrast to Giorgi's service woes, Azarenka would maintain a first serve percentage of 63% and hammer down six aces in total while keeping a tight ship with just five unforced errors to 13 winners. The World No.39 increased her efficacy behind her delivery over the course of a second set in which Giorgi's hitting became ever more wayward, with the 27-year-old smacking balls long, into the net and at one point into the stands.
Giorgi had nevertheless won the best point of the match early in the second set, a series of frantically ricocheted volleys to save an early break point, and as Azarenka served for the match roused the crowd by finding another sequence of blazing winners - but it was too little, too late, and a final backhand into the tramlines from Giorgi put the two-time Australian Open champion over the line. Next up for Azarenka will be another hard-hitting opponent in surging 19-year-old Dayana Yastremska.