Two-time Grand Slam champion and new mother Victoria Azarenka fought her way into the fourth round of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships with a gutsy 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Great Britain’s Heather Watson at The All England Club on Friday. This is just the second tournament of the year for the former World No. 1, now ranked 683rd, since she resumed competitive play after giving birth to son Leo in December.
She next faces the winner of the third round contest between the second seed Simona Halep and China’s Shuai Peng.
Floundering Azarenka gifts Watson the opener
Playing just her fifth competitive match since returning to the Tour, on the hallowed Centre Court of Wimbledon, Azarenka, quite understandably, found the initial goings-on tough against the Brit, who had the crowd leaning towards her.
Rapturous applause reverberated through the stadium for every point that the Guernsey-born World No. 102 hit. And she did it with panache.
Exposing Azarenka’s still sloppy movement and shaky confidence, she raced to a 4-1 lead. The former Australian Open winner was left clueless and her mounting unforced error tally made matters worse.
Azarenka clearly lacked power and depth, with every third shot landing long.
However, leading 4-2, Watson played a horrendous service game to get broken to love and get the two-time Grand Slam champion back on serve. Those who sensed a shift in the momentum were highly disappointed, with a floundering Azarenka dropping her serve in the very next game and letting Watson wrap up the first set 6-3.
The champion in Azarenka wakes up
Azarenka had given a testament to her mental fortitude multiple times before. She summoned her inner champion right after the completion of the opener.
The backhand-down-the-line, a trademark of the ferocious and confident Azarenka, started making its appearance again. And so did the graceful footwork that she is known for.
A completely stunned and petrified Watson lost her way totally to help Azarenka’s cause further. 14 unforced errors from her racquet against just five winners allowed the Belarusian to thoroughly dictate the proceedings.
And this time she converted two out of the three break point opportunities she had to send the match into a decider.
The third set proved to be a mighty struggle for both. As the first serve percentages dropped alarmingly, the games became long and tedious.
Azarenka was the cleaner of the two for the first six games and she was the first one to make the breakthrough to lead 4-3. But just when she looked set for a smooth ride into the fourth round, the finish line got further away from her.
Errors of all sorts crept in to snatch away her advantage and put the set back on level terms at 4-4.
But Watson too went for too much and promptly handed over yet another break to the returning former semi-finalist.
In a tight Azarenka service game, the British player did carve out a couple of break points with a fabulous lob that the Belarusian let go and a blazing forehand down-the-line winner. The former World No. 1 was quick to shut out those mini-chances and made her way into Round 4 as the home hope sent the ball long on match point.