FORMER world number one Victoria Azarenka demolished Russia’s Elena Vesnina at the Brisbane International yesterday to set up a second-round showdown with top seed Simona Halep.
Azarenka lost the opening two games to the Russian qualifier before reeling off successive victories to win 6-2, 6-0 at the Pat Rafter Arena.
After an injury-marred 2014 when she slipped to 32 in the world, Azarenka has struggled to regain the form that took her to two Australian Opens and the top ranking.
She finished 2015 at number 22 and went into the season-opening Brisbane International unseeded.
Azarenka started slowly against Vesnina but found her range with her groundstrokes and put enormous pressure on her opponent, who fought bravely but struggled with consistency.
Azarenka, from Belarus, won her maiden WTA title in Brisbane in 2009 and said she had been keen to open her season in the Queensland capital.
“It’s such a pleasure to come here and I couldn’t wait to play my first match,” she said.
“It’s been a while to be out there playing an actual match. It’s been a lot of practice, so I was just happy to go out there and play and be in front of the crowd and just compete.”
Azarenka said she was looking forward to playing Halep. “I think it’s going to be a very good test,” she added.
“Playing against top players, you always put yourself in a situation where you’ve to push yourself.
“So for me it’s going to be a great challenge. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Earlier, fourth-seeded German Angelique Kerber came back from losing the first set to Italian Camila Giorgi to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-0.
She now takes on American Madison Brengle, who downed Ukraine qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Seventh-seeded Swiss player Belinda Bencic cruised past Italian Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2, while Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro was equally untroubled by Brisbane-based Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic, winning by the same scoreline.
Last year’s US Open finalist Roberta Vinci also moved through to the second round when she beat Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic in three sets 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Former US Open winner and hometown hero Samantha Stosur survived a scare from Slovakian qualifer Jana Cepelova to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, while US qualifier Samantha Crawford downed Australian wildcard Priscilla Hon 6-4, 6-4. — Sport24