Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerVictoria Azarenka (BLR)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has reached the second round at London 2012, but needed three sets to overcome Irina-Camelia Begu 61 36 61 on Centre Court today.
In an uneven encounter lasting 1 hour 44 minutes, the Belarusian outplayed her Romania opponent in the first set, but Begu raised her game in the second to peg Azarenka back and force the decider. The top seed got back on track in the third set however, winning six games in a row to secure victory.
Azarenka said the delay to the start of her first round match hadn't helped. "It was a long wait for me. I had to play yesterday but it got cancelled. Your first match on Centre Court, there are always nerves and today I couldn't get into the match in the second set. There were too many mistakes, but I'm glad I could turn things around and finish as strong as I started."
This was the pair’s third meeting and Azarenka had won their previous two matches, and with a rankings gap of 78 places between the players the first set went pretty much as expected. Begu won just one game as Azarenka nailed the opener in a little over half an hour, and it looked as if the Romanian was heading for a quick exit.
But from the start of the second set, Begu looked like a different player, and quickly jumped to a 4-1 lead. She needed treatment for a problem with her left foot when leading 4-2, but it didn’t seem to affect her, and she won the next game to love and continued to match the world No. 1 in the rallies, which were longer now and almost all played from the baseline.
As the world No. 79 started to hit more winners, the errors crept in for Azarenka, and she struggled with her serve, hitting five double faults in the second set, a figure which would go up to 13 for the match. Begu levelled the match with an ace.
When Begu broke in the opening game of the third set things were starting to look serious for Azarenka, but the Wimbledon semifinalist chose that moment to raise her level and show flashes of the form that saw her win the Australian Open and go on a 26-match winning streak earlier this year.
Azarenka immediately broke back and then turned the match around to ensure there would be no more games for her plucky opponent. She rattled off the next six and won the match on Begu’s serve, claiming it on her third match point with a lucky net cord.
Afterwards Azarenka kissed the place where the ball hit the net and dropped to the ground on the other side, but in truth by that point she would have won without the help it had given her.
"I get more nervous when I play for my country than when I play for myself," said the Belarusian. "Hopefully, the next round will be much easier."
Next up for the top seed is Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain, who defeated Polona Hercog in the first round.
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