Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka is through to the second round in Birmingham after a 7-6(7) 6-4 win over the American Varvara Lepchenko.
Azarenka, now outside the top 20, would have been looking at this tournament to make a steady move up the rankings given her favouritism for this event. Of her last five losses, all of them had been to players ranked higher than her while the last four are to either Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
A slow start saw her fall 0-4 down very quickly but the Belarussian would get back both breaks and force a tiebreak. An early minibreak was followed by two Lepchenko returns to quickly give Azarenka the 3-0* lead. After Lepchenko netted down 5-3, Azarenka would have 3 set points. However, she double faulted the first of four points lost in a row to give Lepchenko her first set point. Forehand errors wide and netted respectively gave Azarenka a fourth set point with no mistake made this time to take a competitive first set.
Azarenka surged into a 4-1 lead in the second set but a minor blip saw her lose eight straight points as Lepchenko recovered to 4-4. Signs of a further collapse were soon erased after Azarenka held from 0-15, taking the momentum into the 10th game of the set. She quickly carved out three match points, taking the second to book a second route match up with Zarina Diyas, who won in straights over Kateryna Bondarenko this morning.
Other early winners include Jelena Jankovic who defeated Tereza Smitkova 6-4 6-4 while Caroline Garcia saved match points in her victory over Tatjana Maria, eventually closing out the match in a final set tiebreak.