Aiming to emulate Serena, Azarenka advances at Aussie Open
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Just like Serena Williams eight years ago, Victoria Azarenka entered the Australian Open as an unseeded player after an injury-plagued season.
Williams had won the Australian title twice before then — Azarenka can match that, too, after back-to-back triumphs here in 2012 and 2013.
All the dance moves and fashion distractions can’t disguise the fact Azarenka wants to go where Williams has been — by being an unseeded winner of the season-opening Grand Slam event.
Both players advanced to the third round with straight sets wins on Thursday: Azarenka beat No. 8-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up, 6-4, 6-2; top-ranked Williams had to save three set points, then won the last 10 games in a 7-5, 6-0 win over former No. 2-ranked Vera Zvonareva, a two-time Grand Slam finalist.
Asked how tough it was to cope with meeting a former No. 1-ranked player so early at a major, Azarenka said the stage doesn’t matter.
“I knew that I’m unseeded so I can play anybody. I just accept whoever is on the opposite side,” she said. “I just try to do my best. She had such an incredible end of last season so I knew I had to step up my game and really take my chances today. I think I did that pretty well.”
Azarenka’s ranking slipped into the 40s this month because of a series of injuries that restricted her to nine tournaments in 2014 — only the top 32 players get seedings at the majors. Serena Williams was ranked No. 81 after a long time on the sidelines but in 2007 became the first — and only other — unseeded winner of the Australian Open since Chris O’Neil, who was ranked No. 111 when she claimed the 1978 title.
Williams has won two more Australian titles since then, and is aiming for her sixth at Melbourne Park — and 19th Grand Slam title overall — this month.
After breaking Williams’ serve twice and having three set points in the first, Zvonareva won only eight points in the second set.
Williams just reminded herself of how successful she’d been in Australia, “and things really clicked.”
“I had no other option but for things to click,” she said. “I just had to start playing better.”
Williams will next play No. 26 Elina Svitolina, who beat Nicole Gibbs 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6).
Venus Williams joined her sister in the third round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over fellow American Lauren Davis. Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Mona Barthel 6-2, 6-4 and next faces Madison Keys, who rallied for a three-set win over No. 29 Casey Dellacqua.
No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 finalist, No. 19 Alize Cornet and No. 24 Garbine Muguruza also advanced.
Novak Djokovic advanced with a 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 88-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov in 84 minutes.
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka, who ended four-time champion Djokovic’s 25-match winning streak at Melbourne Park in the quarterfinals last year, had a tougher 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over No. 194-ranked qualifier Marius Copil.
“I don’t compare from last year to this year. Just a new Grand Slam,” said Wawrinka, who is defending a Grand Slam title for the first time. “It’s been two matches now. Going to be ready now for the next one.”
Wimbledon semifinalist Milos Raonic had a 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-3 win against Donald Young and next plays Benjamin Becker, who came back from two sets down to end former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt’s 19th consecutive run at the Australian Open.
U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori beat Ivan Dodig 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (0), moving into the third round along with No. 9 David Ferrer, No. 12 Feliciano Lopez, No. 18 Gilles Simon, No. 19 John Isner and No. 31 Fernando Verdasco.
Jerzy Janowicz rallied for a 6-4, 1-6, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 17 Gael Monfils.
The third round starts Friday, with No. 2 seeds Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova playing matches one after each other on Rod Laver Arena, where the night cap will feature No. 3 Rafael Nadal against Dudi Sela.