INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - The 2016 BNP Paribas Open final will be a second round match three years later.
Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka set up a meeting with No.10 seed Serena Williams by virtue of a 6-2, 6-3 victory over compatriot Vera Lapko on Wednesday night, closing out the first-round matches on the bottom half.
“It’s obviously going to be a really difficult match, playing Serena it’s not a second-round match for sure,” Azarenka told wtatennis.com after the match.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge. We haven’t played in three years, we haven’t played since we both became moms, so it’s going to be a special one.”
The 29-year-old Belarusian was nearly clinical against her 20-year-old over the course of one hour and 24 minutes, as she won a whopping 10 straight games after falling behind 2-0, 40-0 in the first set.
Lapko put up resistance against her elder compatriot in the second set with her back again the wall, as she won three of the next four games to creep closer and saved four match points on the Azarenka serve in the process.
Nonetheless, Lapko was undone by another early deficit on serve in the match's final game, and despite saving a fifth match point, could not do more to deny the two-time champion a victory.
“I was a little bit nervous at the beginning,” Azarenka admitted. “First rounds are always tough and for me it’s unusual to play someone from my country. At the beginning she played well, she started aggressive serving well, and I was a little too much on the back foot.
“Once I started to play aggressive and dictate, that’s what I think turned it around.”
Azarenka’s serve was booming against Lapko, firing two aces and serving at 52% of first serves. It kept her aggressive and in charge of the rallies, but she was just as effective on the return, converting six of the 13 break chances she created during the match.
“I think I served well, I think I moved pretty well,” she assessed. “I arrived here only on Tuesday, so it was definitely an adjustment to go right to playing mode. But it actually worked out pretty well, I felt pretty good out there.”