On Tuesday at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, Victoria Azarenka and Tamara Zidansek kept perfect head-to-head records against Zhang Shuai and Sloane Stephens in tact.
Making her tournament debut, Azarenka, seeded No.14, scored a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Zhang Shuai in just 61 minutes. Playing for the first time since a third round loss at the US Open to Garbiñe Muguruza 25 days ago, Azarenka handled windy conditions the much better of the two, and improved her career mark against Zhang to 3-0 and 6-0 in sets.
"I used to spend a bit of time in Chicago. One of the families I lived with when I was young, he was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks... so it felt special coming back here and knowing the support is here," Azarenka said after the match.
"It wasn't easy conditions with the wind. Things can always change and it's kind of hard to find your rhythm, so it's important to stay in the moment as much as possible because things can blow in different directions very quickly. Focusing more on the footwork... and this [court] is a little bit faster where the ball goes through it quite a lot, so there are always adjustments.
"I feel like I'm going through a little bit of change, trying to change a few things in my game. Not everything is connecting yet, so it's exciting and a bit of a scary period. I'm looking forward to facing those challenges and to push through like today, and always give my best."
Stat check: Azarenka was balanced in victory with 14 winners and 14 unforced errors, and broke Zhang's serve seven times.
The lone Chinese player in the draw, fresh off winning the doubles title in Ostrava with Sania Mirza last week, proved unable to make the quick adjustment from indoor play in Europe to blustery, outdoor conditions in Chicago.
In all, Zhang racked up 27 unforced errors and seven double faults to just eight winners.
Zidansek earns first Chicago win, second victory over Stephens
On her preferred clay at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in May, just three weeks before she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open, Zidansek had notched a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Stephens in the final round of qualifying.
In the main draw at the WTA 500 event, she was even better: in just 73 minutes, the No. 13 seed secured victory in an identical scoreline to Azarenka's, 6-2, 6-1, to reach the second round. It also marked Zidansek's first win in Chicago, as she was beaten in the first round of the WTA 250 there in August by Varvara Gracheva.
"It's been a while since Rome, and I just stuck to my plan and was focusing on myself. I knew what I needed to do and I did just that," Zidansek said after the match.
"I'm happiest with the fact that I went for my shots. Since 3-1 on, it was easier for me: I was going for my shots, I was serving better, I was starting to feel more comfortable, and it paid off."
Break points = big stat: Break points on offer, and converted, proved to tell the story of the match. Zidansek went 4-for-7 on chances she created against Stephens' serve, while the American was 0-for-8 on her opportunities.
Stephens had the first chances for either player to break in each set. She first held 15-40 on Zidansek's serve at 1-1 in the opener, a set in which four of the eight games extended well past deuce. She again had multiple break points at 1-1 in the second set, but this time, four went unconverted as she lost the last five games of the match.
Zidansek later served out victory after saving two more break points.
Up next: Zidansek will next face Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, who's fresh off a quarterfinal showing last week at the WTA 500 event in Ostrava. The pair have split two previous meetings.