MONTERREY, Mexico - Rising Slovenian star Tamara Zidansek surged into the second round of the Abierto GNP Seguros, ending former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka's first match of 2020, 6-2, 6-2.
"It's great to play against Victoria, someone who has been World No.1," she said after the match. "It's a special feeling, and I'm really happy with the way I played today. I prepared well and I'm happy with the outcome."
The two-time Australian Open champion last played at the US Open, where she fell in the first round of singles to countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka - but finished runner-up in doubles alongside Ashleigh Barty - and pulled out of the Australian Open citing personal reasons.
Showing flashes of the form that took her to the top of the game - and the final in Monterrey last year - the Belarusian was ultimately outmatched by a determined Zidansek, who eased through after 67 minutes on Estadio GNP Seguros.
"No matter who is on the other side, there's always a physical, mental, and tactical preparation before every match. I prepare for every match the same way."
Zidansek, who faced off against Serena Williams in the second round of the Australian Open, is coming off a quarterfinal finish at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, though about 10 spots shy of the career-high ranking of World No.59 that she earned last summer - shortly after reaching her first WTA final in Nürnberg.
"I worked really hard in the off-season, and it feels like it's all starting to click now. I've been feeling amazing in Mexico. It's definitely a mix of the two together."
She showed remarkable consistency as understandable rust plagued the No.7-seeded Belarusian, navigating through two long opening service games to become the first of the two to break serve, catapulting out to a 5-1 lead.
While Azarenka saved a set point and earned one of the two breaks back, the 22-year-old Zidansek was undaunted, breaking straight back to claim the opening set.
The second set was more of the same from the Slovenian, taking a 3-0 lead and holding on through 5-2. With Azarenka serving to stay in the match, Zidansek moved in on match point, stretching to knock away a backhand volley that ultimately decided the clash.
Up next for Zidansek will be either Anastasia Potapova - who also reached the last eight in Acapulco last week - or Italian qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone, who face off later on Tuesday.