Venus Williams battles past Azarenka in Auckland opener

Ruben Hill
January 3, 2019

Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei yesterday began her season with a comfortable straight-sets victory at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, while the ageless Venus Williams launched her 25th year as a professional by outlasting Victoria Azarenka in a three-set thriller. At times, she looked at the peak of her powers as she broke to build a 3-1 lead while Williams struggled to get a foothold in the second set. She had come to Auckland sometimes in the past hoping to play as many matches as possible in the lead-up to the Australia Open but had been undone by challenging draws.

Azarenka, nine years Williams's junior, was the favourite to win the match, not because she had a better year on the circuit in 2018 than Williams, but because of the logic that father time must eventual catch up on the 38-year-old.

"Honestly, my goal was to get past this first round because did you see who I had to play today?"

Williams' superior accuracy in the opening stages gave her the first set, before Azarenka took the second by blasting winners as she moved her opponent from side to side.

However, a key sixth game helped the American to make a comeback and Williams booked her spot in the second round where she will face American compatriot Lauren Davis.

But the tide of the match changed in the second set.

Azarenka gained confidence as she broke Williams for an early lead in the third, clinching the break with a well-placed lob. The Swede showed some fight to break back and level at 4-4 in the second but the defending champion hit a down the line backhand victor to close out the match.

"Tonight was not easy, maybe one of the toughest first rounds I've ever played", Venus Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. "She has the experience, and for the first match of the year...my goal was to get past this first round, and we need these matches going into the Australian (Open)". She was broken again as the Belarusian struggled to find any rhythm, she'd hit a good victor, then blast the ball in the next point into the net or too long.

Second seed and defending champion Julia Goerges made a strong start with a 6-0 6-4 win over Swede Johanna Larsson.

Fifth seed Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic survived a challenge from American Taylor Townsend, winning a topsy turvey battle 6-2 6-7 6-3.

American Sofia Kenin produced the first big upset of the tournament when she knocked out fourth seed Petra Martic 7-5, 2-6, 6-2.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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