Victoria Azarenka couldn’t remain consistent against a tough opponent at the Mutua Madrid Open on Monday. The Belorussian who had some very good moments in the match struggled to keep up with Sloane Stephens succumbing to defeat in a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 score on Manolo Santana Court at La Caja Magica.
The two found themselves even in their series with the first clay court battle in play for the seventh chapter of their history. Both put in time on the surface to have plenty of success this season. Both easily took care of their opening round matches to make this one very interesting faceoff.
The opening pair of games saw them fighting for control with Azarenka using the crosscourt returns to attempt to edge ahead against Stephens. She managed to hold serve and used the same tactic only to lose a shot at the break. In response, the American put her offense into a new gear scoring a serve to love in the third. Azarenka couldn’t get herself to match her opponent despite having played just three games.
It would become a major factor in the set as Stephens showed better strength of defending points against the Belorussian. She continued to lead through to the ninth before gaining a break that gave her the set on a full court press from 0-40 down to win in 43 minutes. Stephen’s overall serve paid of well maintaining an average of 70 percent and won more than three-quarters of points.
She opened the second with another 40-0 run that she still managed to hold against Azarenka who seemed to have troubles with her right shoulder from Stuttgart. The 29-year-old held firm in the second but continued to trail on her level of strength. A key break in the third changed all that as she found something deep within herself to achieve the first break. Adding a hold in the fourth gave Azarenka the edge she wanted and soon hunted the double break in the fifth.
Stephens forced things to deuce while on serve pressuring Azarenka through two breaks to see a return from the Belorussian fall wide to clinch the game. An effort to level the score failed as the 29-year-old attacked the returning forehand of Stephens to gain a bigger lead. Two double faults for the American in the seventh handed another break for the former world number one who closed in on forcing a decider with the serve in hand to do it. She fell behind with Stephens again looking for a break chance but cut her short to force deuce. The Belorussian captured the two points necessary to put the set to her name and force a third set after 46 minutes.
In just their second full length match, every point was key and for Stephens holding the opening game was important with Azarenka breathing down her neck. The two battled evenly through four until a hold for Stephens gave her the lead that she never let go. The American consolidated the new lead with an edge to break Azarenka and open the gap. Another hold to link with the previous game handed Stephens a 5-2 run with the Belorussian serving to stay in it.
Errors rattled the 29-year-old into submission giving Stephens match point but was saved on a long ball to force deuce in the eighth game. A key ace handed Azarenka a chance to continue the match but an eighth double fault put her two steps back. Another one sent the Belorussian over the edge where her third attempt easily put the match away for Stephens to win after two hours and six minutes.Published 06 May 2019, 19:49 IST