OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- No.4 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus came out on top after a tough fight on Wednesday, overcoming Czech qualifier Barbora Krejcikova, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, to reach the quarterfinals of the J&T Banka Ostrava Open.
Former World No.1 Azarenka shook off a sterling opening set by Krejcikova to outmaneuver the Czech after two hours and 13 minutes of play, in the first meeting between the two combatants. The World No.14 denied the qualifier her first-ever Top 20 win in her seventh contest against players within that ranking strata.
"More than anything, my fighting spirit brought me into the game more, and I started to pick up my game more from there," Azarenka told the press, after the match. "I think that was a jumpstart."
With her first win of the week following a first-round bye, Azarenka continues a rich vein of form on hardcourt, having won 12 of her last 13 matches on the surface. The Belarusian notched her 21st career title at the Western & Southern Open and reached her fifth Grand Slam final at the US Open in her two previous hardcourt events.
Azarenka finished the match with 39 winners, more than doubling her 18 unforced errors as she completed a clean match. Krejcikova had 44 winners of her own, but the majority of her 34 unforced errors came in the final two sets as Azarenka took command down the stretch.
"[Krejcikova] started playing really well," said Azarenka, about having to come back from the loss of the first set. "I felt like she played really well the whole match, but she just played so loose. I didn’t necessarily feel I played bad, she was just one step ahead, and I felt like everything was kind of working. What helped me was kind of to understand that I had to change and adapt."
"I needed to adjust, find a new tactic, be more aggressive, come in a little bit more, and impose myself a bit more effectively," Azarenka concluded. "I think I did that well."
Playing her first event as a Top 100 singles player, Krejcikova took control early in the match, zipping to triple break point at 1-1 with a series of fierce forehands. Azarenka used aggressive play of her own to fend off the trio, but another fabulous forehand by Krejcikova forced an error to earn a fourth break point. There, Krejcikova slammed a return winner to lead 2-1.
From that point, Krejcikova powered through the set without facing a break point. The Czech clinched a double-break lead with her forehand to move ahead 5-2, then had no trouble serving out the set in the next game, wrapping up the one-set lead with yet another forehand winner. The Czech qualifier slammed 20 winners in the first set, eight more than her seeded opponent.
Azarenka was under pressure early in the second set as well, staring down five break points in her first two service games. The steely Belarusian, though, fought off all of those chances en route to 2-1, and was rewarded with her first break point of the day in the next game, which she converted with a winning backhand volley.
Now up 3-1, Azarenka started to turn the tables, though she had to save three more break points over her next two service games before easing to a 5-2 lead, slamming an ace to take that hard-fought game. Her grit while facing those situations paid off at the end of the second set, as she broke Krejcikova a second time to level the match.
Krejcikova staved off two break points in her first service game of the decider, but that would be the extent of her scoreboard presence in the final set as Azarenka began to roll to victory. A love service hold by the Belarusian for 2-1 kept the pressure on the Czech, who double faulted down break point in the next game to cede a 3-1 lead to Azarenka.
A strong return by Azarenka gave her a second break and a 5-1 advantage in the third set, and she zoomed to triple match point in the subsequent game. Azarenka sent a forehand wide on the first, but she made no mistake on the second, firing her sixth ace of the day to close out the win.
In her quarterfinal clash, Azarenka will face either another Czech, Karolina Muchova, or No.7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium.