MONTERREY, Mexico -- Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus had a successful Abierto GNP Seguros debut on Tuesday, claiming a first-round victory over qualifier Miyu Kato of Japan, 6-4, 6-2.
"It took me a few years to finally come here, but it’s my pleasure to be here," the first-time Monterrey competitor told the media, following her win.
In the first meeting between the two players, World No.67 Azarenka got through a close opening set in chilly weather before easing to a one-hour and 14-minute victory over the 514th-ranked qualifier.
"I think the first match is never easy, to play against an opponent that you don’t know, and I hadn’t had enough time to adapt to the conditions yet," Azarenka said. "Hopefully it will warm up a little bit."
Azarenka broke her Japanese opponent four times out of seven chances during the clash, while Kato could only muster up a single break point in the encounter. Azarenka won a superb 80 percent of points when she got her first serve into play.
Azarenka got off to a quick start, breaking Kato in the opening game of the match after the Japanese player fired a miscue wide on break point. But Kato was able to get back on serve at 2-2 after Azarenka misfired on her forehand.
The Belarusian, however, was able to quickly regain her advantage, using strong returns to take Kato’s serve once more and jump ahead 3-2. Azarenka found powerful serves when she needed them most, grinding through close services games to hold through to 5-3.
Serving for the first set, Azarenka raced to triple set point. Kato saved the first by forcing an error with a crosscourt backhand, but on the second, the Japanese player clipped the netcord with a backhand that sailed wide.
Azarenka took the first lead in the second set, grinding through a Kato service game at 1-1 to earn a service break on her fourth break point of the game. The former top-ranked player in the world began to kick her game into overdrive at this point, earning a 4-1, double-break advantage by forcing an error with a stirring crosscourt backhand.
With Azarenka serving for the match at 5-2, Kato pulled to 30-30 with a forehand winner, but Azarenka clocked a backhand into the corner for a clean winner, setting up her first match point. The Belarusian converted it after a rally ended with a long miscue by Kato, starting her career record at the Abierto GNP Seguros with a straight-set win.
Azarenka will face Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the second round. Diyas defeated Mexican wild card Renata Zarazua, 7-5, 6-4, in her opening match.