LONDON, Great Britain – Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka overcame a tough opening battle against 18-year-old CiCi Bellis to move into the second round of Wimbledon.
Azarenka showed flashes of her vintage form as well as signs of rust, recovering strongly from a set down to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.
As it happened: WTA Insider Live Blog: Victoria Azarenka vs CiCi Bellis
Playing in her second tournament back from her nearly year-long maternity leave, Azarenka knew she was going to be in for a battle.
“[Bellis] is definitely not an easy opponent, especially in the first round,” Azarenka said ahead of the match. “I'm here unseeded with really no ranking. I didn't really know who I'm going to play. I expect every round to be tough.
“But I actually practiced with her couple of times already. I practiced with her here and in Mallorca. She's definitely a good player. At this age you have nothing to lose, just go out there with no pressure, and playing. I'm happy to play against anybody.”
For her part, Bellis was not overawed by the occasion or the two-time Grand Slam champion standing across the net, bossing the rallies early on and earning a double break for a 4-0 lead.
Azarenka struck back to cut the lead down to one break, then brought up another three chances to break back as Bellis was serving for the set. But the American calmly batted them away – with the help of a couple of Azarenka misses – to take the set.
But in the second the momentum shifted as Azarenka shook off the rust and applied pressure on Bellis with her big returns. She cut down on her unforced error count, too, and broke the American twice to level the score and send the match into a decider.
The Belarusian stayed steady to break three more times, covering the court and peppering her game with successful forays to the net.
After an hour and 45 minutes on court, Azarenka served out the victory to score her first victory at Wimbledon since 2015.Up next for Azarenka is Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina after the No.15 seed took down Anna Blinkova 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 earlier in the day.
“It was wonderful,” Azarenka reflected. “The atmosphere was really nice, and to see how much people welcome me is really actually emotional to me. I'm very happy.
“I'm glad I was able to play on the big court, you know, feel that the atmosphere again with a lot of people and bigger court. It feels really different from a practice court.”
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