Italian Masters: Osaka advances with ease over Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka found herself out of the BNL Internazionali D’Italia early on Monday afternoon. The former number one had a rough outing against Naomi Osaka who took her out in straight sets 6-0, 6-3 on Corte Centrale on the grounds of Foro Italico in Rome. It was the 20 year old’s fourth time defeating a current or former world number one in her career and her first advance ever in the tournament.
The two met back in 2016 where the Belorussian trounced the young tennis star in straight sets allowing her very little. Things have changed dramatically for the Japanese power hitter as she picked up Sasha Baijin as coach winning the BNP Paribas Open as a result. Her work on the hard courts earned her respect and fear on the court but coming on to clay was a new chapter that has not gone well. She lost in the early round of Madrid after going three rounds back in Charleston. With the surface not being her strong suit, the 20-year-old would have a battle on her hands as the former world number one in Rome geared into a familiar tournament.
Osaka got an early start landing a couple of winners and an ace off Azarenka showing her mission to dig in. The wind was becoming a factor for the Belorussian as she couldn’t hold her serve together handing Osaka a clean break in the second. The remnants of Indian Wells were in the mind of the 20-year-old knowing she could handle the situation. Getting another hold was huge for Osaka as she dominated Azarenka the way she wanted.
The power shots continued to produce so much trouble for the 28-year-old who had several unforced errors and just one winner that gave Osaka another break to love. It was 5-0 after 17 minutes that had the Belorussian calling for coach Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh who told her to play point by point and a few technical adjustments to counteract the match.
While she had a much better service after the break, the improvements mentioned wouldn’t come as Osaka kept her composure during deuce to win on the third break. It was the first time since Indian Wells in 2014 that Azarenka was blanked in a set where it took the young powerhouse just 26 minutes to stand a set up. She served 76 percent on the first serve landing eight winners and maintaining a strong second serve that produced such a solid result.
While her problems were still weighing heavy on her shoulders, Azarenka managed to start the second set with a break. Putting good depth on her returns, the 28-year-old played everything she could to force deuce and get ahead. She made it 2-0 allowing Osaka a single point in the last game that had the possibility of a true lead change. The small shutout was put to rest by the world number 21 pulling together a service hold before breaking Azarenka who double-faulted in the fourth.
The Belorussian was frustrated by the loss of ground and then the lead as Osaka gained her third straight game in the set. The dominance was back in full form for the 20-year-old as a fourth consecutive win and second double break of the match had her seeing visions of the second round for the first time. The wind was the supporting role of her success as the return game of Azarenka’s suffered because of it.
It was soon 5-2 in favour of the Japanese power hitter winning her service game defending on a deuce. It put the pressure at its highest on Azarenka who served the eighth holding off Osaka for a third win but still a tough fight for a chance at a third set. She began the ninth delivering crosscourt returns that beat the 20-year-old for a time until she battled back in the game. An ace from Osaka forced deuce where after two breaks, she landed a cross-court winner for match point ending the day in 1 hour and 13 minutes. Osaka gained her 20th winner to cap the match off maintaining her first serve despite adding a dozen errors in the second set.
While the conditions played a role, she’ll have to adjust to them and more as she faces world number one Simona Halep in competition going forward.