Down 0-2 early on in her BNP Paribas Open first-round opener against compatriot Vera Lapko, Victoria Azarenka looked anxiously towards her camp. It hasn’t been the comeback she would have envisioned after leaving the sport to have her first child not long after winning her second title in Tennis Paradise three years ago. But something clicked for Azarenka, as it often does for the sport’s great champions, in the face of adversity.
From there, the Belarusian legend shifted into another gear, firing missile-like backhands down the line with the line-parallel beauty that recalled her prime in the early 2010’s, where she was a fixture of the Top 5 and winner of consecutive Australian Open championships.
Confidently dancing around the court and producing shadow swings between points that alone could have constituted a solid workout, Azarenka quickly reeled of 10 consecutive games against her compatriot, whose own powerful hitting off both wings was stifled by the two-time Grand Slam champion’s redirections of pace.
Although Azarenka would fail to serve the match out, any doubts about her closing ability were quickly quelled as she promptly broke to fifteen to register just a fourth victory in what has been an uncharacteristically silent start to the season.
The victory confirms a blockbuster Friday ticket: Azarenka versus the only other mother on tour more prolific than herself – Serena Williams.
It will be their 22nd meeting in an intense rivalry that, although lopsided, has often elicited the highest level out of both competitors. Serena leads 17-4, but their last meeting might bear more weight than one might think: a 6-4, 6-4 win in a final.
But not just any final. The BNP Paribas Open final three years ago.