CINCINNATI, OH, USA – Donna Vekic defeated Victoria Azarenka for the second time in the space of a fortnight to move through to the last 16 of the Western & Southern Open, 6-2, 7-5 in 84 minutes.
When the pair clashed in San Jose earlier this month, Vekic had to battle back from a break down in each set before winning through, yet in Ohio the 23-year-old got off to an express start that laid the foundation for her success.
"I think today was a much better match than our match in San Jose," Vekic said after her win. "I think we were both playing better. I started the match better as well, [Azarenka] was serving better, I was serving really good today as well. I think overall it was a good match."
"I never had played her before San Jose, so it was a bit crazy to play her twice in three weeks!" Vekic effused.
Vekic had never previously gone past the second round at the event and by contrast was playing an opponent who had won the title in 2013, yet the disparity in Cincinnati success between the players was little evident.
A mere nine minutes were required for Vekic to open a 3-0 advantage, breaking twice in the process, and though the set became more competitive thereafter, it was sealed in 37 minutes.
Although Azarenka had progressed to the second round via Belinda Bencic’s retirement, she had appeared in good touch in her opening match. She was unable, however, to reprise such a level against the WTA World No.26, whose game was tight, with her serve unwavering and unforced errors infrequent.
The Belarusian might have been far from her best, but her spirit dragged her to a competitive level. This was typified by the sixth game of the opening set in which she simply refused to allow Vekic an easy hold, pushing her to seven deuces before finally buckling.
It was a signal that showed she was not going to go down easily but in soaring temperatures, which meant the heat rule was in place, her mentality was being trumped by Vekic’s game.
An apparently decisive move towards sealing the match arrived in the third game of the second set as the Croatian first drilled a forehand down the line to bring up break point then whipped another crosscourt to move firmly into control.
Rather than force Azarenka into submission, it inspired her best tennis as she chalked up three successive games.
The topsy-turvy nature of the second set continued as Vekic hit back on serve then produced two of her best points of the day back-to-back to help her to a couple of break points. First she delivered the deftest of dropshot winners then powered another off a return. The game was sealed as Azarenka hit into the net then delivered a double fault.
"I knew she was going to keep fighting until the last point, and I knew I had to stay in there," said Vekic. "She was definitely more aggressive, making more returns at 4-3, but I’m happy I managed to win in two sets, breaking her again at 5-5."
With an opponent in belligerent form, it was no formality simply to hold, yet Vekic did so to secure a third-round meeting with Venus Williams, an opponent she lost to in their only previous meeting, at Wimbledon 2016.
"It’s amazing to see Venus playing at such a high level," Vekic stated. "She’s a very tough player, but I’m just going to talk to [coach] Torben [Beltz] and make good tactics."