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Azarenka shows steel after slow start to oust Kenin

The 24th seed needed two hours and four minutes to secure victory on Margaret Court Arena, ensuring she avoided first-round exits faced in two of her three most recent trips Down Under.

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Melbourne:In a battle of former Melbourne Park women’s singles champions, Victoria Azarenka overcame Sofia Kenin 6-4 7-6(3) on Monday afternoon to book a berth in the second round of Australian Open 2023.

The 24th seed needed two hours and four minutes to secure victory on Margaret Court Arena, ensuring she avoided first-round exits faced in two of her three most recent trips Down Under.

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Azarenka hoisted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 2012 and 2013, years before Kenin etched her name onto the same trophy in 2020.

The duo split their prior meetings, with Azarenka not dropping a game in their most recent encounter, a lopsided 6-0 6-0 victory over the American at the Italian Open in Rome in 2020.

At lead-in tournaments, Kenin reached the semifinals in Hobart and the second round in Auckland while notching a touch more match play than Azarenka, who reached the quarterfinals in the first Adelaide tournament before crashing out at the first hurdle at the second Adelaide International.

Azarenka, who has won more matches at Melbourne Park than anyone else in the AO 2023 women’s singles draw, quickly found herself on the back foot in the first-round battle.

The 33-year-old fended off four break points in her opening service game before succumbing to a fifth, falling to an early 0-3 deficit, AO reported.

But a slew of heavy, well-placed groundstrokes from Azarenka produced a string of unforced errors from the 24-year-old Kenin, enabling Azarenka to break the American twice as she raced to a 5-3 lead.

Kenin, playing with strapping down her left adductor, saved three set points before her elder rival served out the first set.

The unseeded American went for broke in the second set, often dictating points with sizzling down-the-line winners off both wings. Seeking to attack, the vocal American employed drops shots to end tense rallies, albeit with mixed success.

Both players retained their focus despite a brief rain delay and Azarenka survived a shaky service game at 5-6, saving break point to force a second-set tiebreak. The 24th seed, competing in her 15th Australian Open, closed out the match after Kenin slammed a backhand return into the net.

The 24th seed faces either Nadia Podoroska or qualifier Leolia Jeanjean in the second round, and on paper will be a favourite to progress deeper into the AO 2023 draw.

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