Miami Open: Azarenka christens new venue with thrilling win over Cibulkova
Victoria Azarenka made history once again at the Miami Open Wednesday. In a brand new venue for the sport, the three-time champ had a challenging match against Dominika Cibulkova that went the distance only to get the win in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 score on stadium court on the grounds of the Hard Rock Stadium.
The 11th meeting and first in four years was a perfect time for the rivalry to rekindle as both looked to regroup from their quick finish at Indian Wells. A loss against eventual champion Bianca Andreescu couldn’t be stopped and Azarenka’s loss of control against Serena Williams were two matches that quickly spiralled.
With familiar competitions between the two, the Belorussian and Slovakian would fight hard in their third match in Miami. Despite the change in venue, the former world number one eyed her dominance and hoped to keep it going against her European rival.
The very first rally at the new venue saw Cibulkova get into a good rally that lasted nearly 15 shots with the winner going in her favour. She got into a tight fight for the game that went to deuce but ended in a break of serve for Azarenka. The Belorussian consolidated it with a stronghold that saw her groundstroke crosscourt shots catch the line to easily handle her serve. Trying not to go down on serve a second time, Cibulkova forced deuce with a great winner but committed a double fault. An important moment that saw Azarenka draw errors opened the door for the Slovakian to hold in the third.
A gutsy hold of serve match that of Azarenka’s which was at a higher rate but getting the break became a difficult task to increase her marginal lead. With three games of held serves, the Slovakian tried to keep Azarenka close but in the seventh, she blew an AD point chance and couldn’t get another. The Belorussian converted the break and added a hold in the eighth to end the first set in 42 minutes. She beat down Cibulkova’s points serve to 54 percent from the first and 33 percent on the second.
Knowing that a lot needed to be improved, the Slovakian came out with a great start to the second set holding Azarenka to a point through two games. Her short lead dissolved as the Belorussian fought through the third that lasted eight minutes and five breaks to get on the board. She evened the score on serve in the fourth but a strong hold from Cibulkova kept her ahead after five.
The remained on serve through seven with Cibulkova still out front but needing a coaching conference with Matej Liptak who told her to stay positive during the sit-down. She attacked hard in the eighth with Azarenka on the ball but under pressure as the errors came to pass. She scored an ace to try and force deuce which she did on a big smash. The Slovakian didn’t let that rattle her and got the break on an error into the net from Azarenka to give her a shot at forcing a third.
She easily gained three set points against the Belorussian but came low to go into the net. She somehow held the last point to close things out and go the distance after 48 minutes. She was much more effective on the serve where she won more than 60 percent of points and a major improvement on the second. With 14 winners and only seven unforced errors against Azarenka, she gave herself a fighting chance to be a difficult force on court.
After the world number 46 held to open the deciding set, Cibulkova answered back with a serious push to state her intentions. She challenged Azarenka to deuce where they spanned three breaks and seven and a half minutes before a hold for the Belorussian was successful. She wasn’t lucky on serve in the fifth as Cibulkova gained break point chances before taking it on deuce to lead. When it looked as if she would fall two games, the Belorussian levelled back just in time on a returned error that Cibulkova was unhappy at committing.
It was the start of her downfall as Azarenka gained momentum with a hold of serve and converted on a break to lead 5-3. While serving for the match in the ninth, the Belorussian drew errors from Cibulkova to get the jump on the scoreboard. She came back with a great return winner followed by a low lob that was unreturnable for Azarenka. She timed out the next point for a break chance but a long ball forced deuce. The AD point was critical for both as they exchanged chances but the game went to Cibulkova who stayed alive to serve in the tenth.
With a much-needed hold for the Slovakian, she tried to keep herself together but without any more challenges, the leverage was in Azarenka's favour as she gained match point on the break to win with a crosscourt smash to end a tough two and half hour battle.
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster,” Azarenka said to Andrew Krasny during her on-court interview. “Dominika is such a dangerous opponent. She’s been on the tour for a while and we’ve played from juniors together. It was an entertaining first match. I think that’s how you want to start the tournament.” “It was such an honour to play here as the first match and am so excited for the rest of the tournament.” She’ll get into another challenging situation during her second-round match facing French star Caroline Garcia.