Italian Open 2019: Azarenka routs Zhang in straight sets
Victoria Azarenka played a well-rounded game that kept the competition at bay during the BNL Internazionali D’Italia Monday night. The world number 51 had her serve on lock and fired 18 winners at Shuai Zhang for a 6-2, 6-1 win on Grandstand Court at Foro Italico in Rome.
The Belorussian led their short series with a win on the hard courts of Indian Wells. Getting to meet Zhang on clay would be an outcome she hoped to win after a tough three-set loss that cut her short in Madrid. With one more tournament before the French Open, the 29-year-old needed as much time as possible to be at her best. The 30-year-old carried a two-match slide since losing the final in China last month, with both coming in evenly, it came down to who got the best start on the Italian clay.
After both got their opening service games out of the way, it was Azarenka to make the first push as she used the crosscourt sliced shots to put Zhang into submission in the third. She added another to consolidate the break playing comfortably on court while the Chinese star racked up the errors. Azarenka secured the double break before she was broken back in the sixth.
The Belorussian still had a two game buffer to handle and added a third for the triple break. Zhang couldn’t find a way to grip herself into the set and went down swinging in the eighth that gave the former world number one the set in 31 minutes. With Azarenka’s offense in check, she used her aggressive returns to beat down Zhang who could only muster up 11 of 29 points from both the first and second serves. The dozen errors also were the addition that she lost six of eight in the set.
When the second set got underway, Zhang hadn’t found a victory through the first pair of games leaving her at a loss of confidence. Despite having a double fault on serve, a victory came to the 30-year-old ending her opponent’s game streak at four. The sudden change for the Chinese star got her into a fight during the fourth forcing deuce late. She never got a chance at the AD point which Azarenka secured to lead 3-1.
She put together a good formula of depth that helped her remain comfortable and patient to see Zhang make the mistakes and lose ground. With another hold, the remainder of the match was in Azarenka’s hands facing Zhang who served to stay in it. The Belorussian fired back two returns for points and gained another to reach three match points. Her first attempt was inconclusive by the umpire but another shot back gave her the win to end the night after one hour and six minutes.
It was an impressive win for the 29-year-old who only committed 11 unforced errors through 15 games of play with the aggression coming up big. She’ll need a lot of it as she faced sixth seed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina in another night match Tuesday.