Mutua Madrid Open: Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka win their first-round matches in straight sets
The Latvian put together her best performance since 1st April with a 6-2, 6-1 sweep of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Belorussian knew there would be some difficulty against Darya Kasatkina, but she held her in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 on Manolo Santana Court.
The clay court experience for Ostapenko gave her a leg up against the Russian veteran who went down in two of their previous meetings.
With none coming on clay, it gave the former French Open champion a serious opportunity to be dominant after a tough transition onto the surface.
Getting through the first game was tough for Pavlyuchenkova who fell behind 15-40 but rallied to force deuce. She couldn’t contain the striking returns from Ostapenko who denied the 27-year-old from holding serve.
With the break in hand, the Latvian opened a two-game gap on her opponent in time to see her get on the board. Her win in the third was one too many as she would see as Ostapenko take the next three games straight.
Pavlyuchenkova worked hard to get another one, but the margin was too great with the 21 year old closing out the set comfortably in 34 minutes.
Winning points on the first serve was easy for the Latvian, scoring 10 of 11 from it which dramatically saw Pavlyuchenkova’s return game fall to it scoring only one point. With her service game nowhere near par, the 27 year old knew that she was in for a hurt.
The second started with another break for Ostapenko, only to be broken back for the first time in the match.
She didn’t let it take much from her game as she secured the double break and went on a tear against the Russian. Winning the next five straight, the 21-year-old went to deuce only once against Pavlyuchenkova to put the match away in an hour’s time.
The former World No.1 wasn’t fortunate enough to have a match as such as she faced the world number 21 for the first time in WTA competition.
Getting a good run in Stuttgart was important for the 29-year-old who made it to the quarterfinals but had to pull out with a shoulder injury.
Despite the previous issue, the Belorussian had been playing a fine line of tennis on clay showing her willingness to win more with a key tournament in view.
She made sure to push ahead first breaking Kasatkina before consolidating it with a hold of serve. The young Russian got into the mix in time to level with Azarenka with a break back in the fourth.
The traded breaks with one another through to the eighth game where it would take more than the weakness of their opponent to win the set. The first to act was Kasatkina as she got an early break on the scoreboard to hold Azarenka back.
The Belorussian responded with a key hold that forced the set onward and into a critical 11th game. It was there that the two got into a tug of war for control with Azarenka forcing deuce on Kasatkina’s service.
Through four breaks, they fought for the AD point but in the end, it was the 29 year old coming out with the victory and a break in hand. She made sure that nothing would go wrong serving for the set and held two set points to take the lead after 53 minutes.
Azarenka had certainly targeted the second serve of Kasatkina who suffered with the five double faults and just 5 of 17 from it. With her offense underperforming but well-rounded, the 29-year-old was prepared for another tough battle.
Kasatkina had a tough opener to begin the second set but her ability to deny Azarenka break chances improved to hold the serve. They comfortably held one another off through four until a loss of control in the fifth saw the Belorussian gaining leverage.
A near shutout in the game gave her the break which she consolidated with a hold in the sixth for a two game lead. Kasatkina recovered to hold in the seventh keeping her opponent close.
The Belorussian pressed the action to continue climbing ahead on the score, but the Russian refused to go quietly.
She made it 4-5 after nine, but the serve was in the hands of the 29 year old where she gave Kasatkina just one point before putting an end to her day on court that took 1 hour and 43 minutes to complete.
She improved the first serve percentage that took care of the rest of her game despite having three double faults in the set.
With both Ostapenko and Azarenka advancing to the second round, they would have to ante up huge take on Kiki Bertens or Katerina Siniakova for the Latvian. The Belorussian looked to take on qualifier Polona Hercog or the newly engaged Sloane Stephens next.