MIAMI, FL, USA -- Three-time champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus made a commanding return to the Miami Open on Wednesday with a comprehensive first-round victory over Top 50 player Catherine "CiCi" Bellis of the United States, 6-3, 6-0.
"I'm happy that I'm playing," Azarenka said during her post-match press conference. "I don't want to be over-the-moon happy, because I'm still in the tournament, and I want to continue to reach any heights and new goals, so I'm trying to be happy, grateful, but also humble and focused for the next match, because I'm still in the tournament and I want to do better."
"I'm never satisfied," the two-time major champion continued, with a smile.
The Belarusian claimed the championship trophy in Miami in 2009, 2011, and 2016, but missed last year's event after having given birth to son Leo three months prior. After playing two events last year, she ended her season after Wimbledon, and the Miami Open is only her second event contested since then, following up her second-round showing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last week.
But the former World No.1 played like she had never missed a moment, dispatching the 18-year-old American in just over an hour. Azarenka extended her head-to-head record against Bellis to 2-0, having beaten the teenager in three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year.
Azarenka dominated on return, winning more than half of the points on both the first and second serve of Bellis. The 2012 and 2013 Australian Open victor converted seven of the nine break points she held throughout the match.
Azarenka was under pressure from the teenager early, as the former World No.1 needed to fend off four break points before holding for 1-1. The Belarusian then claimed a break of the Bellis serve behind a number of strongly struck backhands, but if Bellis was fazed, it did not show in the early going, as she quickly broke back for 2-2.
But a sloppy game from Bellis -- two backhand errors and two double faults -- handed a break at love to Azarenka, and the Belarusian took the initiative, stepping in on her groundstrokes and pressing the young American with smothering aggression. Azarenka raced to 4-2, and then claimed a double-break advantage for 5-2 after a backhand putaway.
Bellis regained one break back to get to 5-3, but Azarenka picked up her fourth break of the set in the next game, as a superb backhand down the line on set point forced another error from the American, giving the former Miami titlist a one-set lead.
"I was just nervous before the match, because I haven't played in a while and I want to do so well," said Azarenka. "So I put a lot of kind of pressure on myself to do well. I think you could see that in the first couple games. But then I just relaxed and I found my game, and I stepped on the pedal and didn't take it off."
The controlled aggression continued in the second set, as Azarenka refused to cede a winning game plan. Bellis attempted to mix a few drop shots and lobs into her arsenal, but more often than not, Azarenka overcame every challenge the young American threw at her with aplomb.
By that point, the former top-ranked player was claiming most of the rallies with steely focus. A backhand down-the-line winner on break point gave Azarenka a 4-0 advantage, and she was rolling as she held for 5-0 with her third and final ace of the match.
In the next game, Bellis hit a forehand winner to bring up game point, hoping to avert the bagel, but from there, consecutive double faults instead led to Azarenka's first match point. Azarenka squandered one with a forehand error, but two points later, a backhand error by Bellis ended the straight-set tilt.
Another intriguing match against an American awaits Azarenka in the second round, as she will face No.14 seed and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys. It will be the first meeting between Azarenka and Keys.
"As of right now I need time to be okay, you know, to give myself a little room to breathe, which is very difficult for me to do and not to be hard on myself," said Azarenka. "It will take a little time, but I think, you know, I have no doubt that what I want to achieve I will achieve."