Victoria Azarenka had a tough opening match on her hands that didn’t give her progress at the French Open Monday. The Belorussian was outdueled on Court 18 at the hands of Katerina Siniakova 7-5, 7-5 at Roland Garros. Her response against the big forehand of the former world number one got her through some trying moments on the court.
The two stars haven’t met one another, this made their opening round an interesting clash. The Czech, who has experience on clay, nearly made it to the finals of Nurnberg last week only to lose out to Johann Larsson. With her recent four-game winning streak, the 22-year-old came into the year’s second slam with an edge. Since returning to the tour full time, the former number one has had it rough on the clay courts losing early at Madrid and Rome. With Siniakova being a power player, the Belorussian would find her day uneasy and needed to play tough.
The game started with longballs with Siniakova launching cross-court hits through the rallies that got Azarenka to falter. Though she had to win it on deuce, the former number one avoided handing the world number 54 any leverage. They remained on serve through six in which Azarenka avoided going to deuce on her third service game.
With the indication of her offense warming up, the task to get ahead on the score remained as they inched closer to a conclusion. By the ninth game, Siniakova was still leading the way on serve getting the 5-4 hold in hopes that a break could end the streak of her opponent who would fall a set down. Errors on the forehand made it easy for Azarenka to clinch her fifth consecutive service hold needing more to be played.
In an attempt to switch up the score, Azarenka tried to add some drop shots to the mix only to see the Czech answer them with ferocity. The 22-year-old held her serve and laid down the victory in the 12th, slamming down three set points to win after 48 minutes. Siniakova clearly had the edge on Azarenka in serve percentages and single-digit errors in the match that ultimately gave her a step up on the former number one going forward.
The second started with Azarenka breaking the young Czech before being broken herself. It was there that Siniakova controlled her service in the third to get back to the pace set earlier. It lasted just a pair of games when Siniakova’s game shuddered in the fifth with back to back double faults. She rallied back in the sixth but was trailing behind Azarenka who was determined to send it to a deciding set.
Siniakova had other plans as she broke back in the eighth keeping the score level with the chance to regain the lead. That was exactly what she did earning the hold in the ninth to put her opponent under pressure on serve. The Czech answered beautifully on the big returns by Azarenka that gave her a small lead. The Belorussian made up the lost ground that frustrated Siniakova to the point of receiving a warning from the umpire. She blew the chance to end the set needing more chances to get it done.
A serve to love came from the 22-year old that set into place another nerve-wracking moment for the Belorussian. It was too much for her to handle as Siniakova reached a full break to love that brought a close to her opening round victory in 1 hour 47 minutes. The difference maker was the control on serves and the returns as Siniakova showed her strength to answer the shots coming at her. With a good win under her belt, the Czech star would go against first-year competitor Kateryna Kozlova who took down Jelena Ostapenko Sunday.