WTA Auckland: Venus Williams downs Azarenka in a classic clash

She needed three sets to win the biggest first-round clash in the tournament. Defending champion Goerges defeats Larsson

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Auckland: Venus Williams downs Azarenka in a classic clash

Venus Williams beat Vika Azarenka 63 16 63 in the biggest first round clash in ASB Classic history. No female player, however, has won more matches in Auckland than Goerges, who finally broke through last year on her ninth appearance here.

The defending champion took her 21st win here as she defeated world No.75 Johanna Larsson 6-0 6-4. Williams, who had the edge over Azarenka in their previous encounters although they haven't met on tour since 2015, started stronger with her punishing serves and forehands.

The superb shotmaking surely lived up to the billings as a stunning forehand pass on the run from Azarenka testified. Azarenka, reunited with former coach Wim Fissette who took her to a run of strong results in 2016, had a frustrating first set burdened also by a confusing shot selection.

Williams led 5-1 at one point, which didn't reflect the closeness of the contest, before converting her third set point to wrap the set 6-3. But Azarenka had been improving as the match progressed, and shifted the momentum in the second set.

Gone were the unforced errors from the first set, and she began to overpower the American at the baseline. Azarenka saved three break points, with two aces and a powerful backhand to take a 1-0 lead in the second set. At times, she looked at the peak of her powers as she broke to build a 3-1 lead while Williams struggled to get a foothold in the second set.

She managed to grab only six points on her serve, was broken twice and couldn't convert any of the staggering seven break opportunities. However, she rediscovered her game in the final set. The Belarusian broke immediately to stay on top and take a 1-0 third set lead, but she sent a backhand wide gifting the immediate break back.

Cheers from the crowd became even more intense as Azarenka lobbed to move 3-2 ahead and Williams broke back again witha superb volley winner. Azarenka continued to struggle on serve, Williams grabbed the crucial break in the eighth game, and served out the match, with Azarenka netting a forehand.

Goerges ended a three-match losing streak against Larsson as she won the first eight games of the match. The Swede showed some fight to break back and level at 4-4 in the second but the defending champion hit a down the line backhand winner to close out the match.

Fifth seed Barbora Strycova also progressed, though she was pushed to the limit by hard hitting American Taylor Townsend, completing a hard-fought 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 victory. "It was very tough," said Strycova, as the New Zealand Herald Stuff reported.

"I was playing well in the beginning and she couldn't really find the court. But she started to serve much better and the wind, lefty, this mix wasn't good for me." "We talk all the time that I am angry and emotional and yes, this is me.

I won't change it. I need it sometimes to put the emotions out. I won that match because of my head…I was stronger."

(7) Kirsten Flipkens b. Sachia Vickery 6-2, 6-2
(Q) Bibiane Schoofs b. (8) Alison van Uytvanck 3-4 ret.
Sofia Kenin b. (4) Petra Martic 7-5, 2-6, 6-2
(5) Barbora Strycova b. Taylor Townsend 6-2, 6-7, 6-3
(3) Su-Wei Hsieh b. Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-3
Mona Barthel b. Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-2, 7-6
(2) Julia Goerges b. Johanna Larsson  6-0, 6-4
Amanda Anisimova b. Jana Cepelova 6-2, 2-0 ret.
(6) Venus Williams b. Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 1-6, 6-3

Wta Auckland Venus Williams