Azarenka and Wozniacki move into the third round of the Pan Pacific Open

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Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki both won their second round matches on Tuesday to reach the last 16 of the Premier 5 event in Tokyo. The tournament boasts an especially strong field, and the progression of these big names not only adds intrigue to the event’s latter rounds, but also reaffirms the return of stability to the WTA tour.

Azarenka, playing her first match since losing a heartbreaking US Open final to Serena Williams, showed no sign of any lingering despondence by thrashing Tamira Paszek of Austria 6-1, 6-1 in just over an hour. World number 32 Paszek had no answer to the Belarusian’s searing groundstrokes, and although she did manage to break Azarenka, she lost six of her own service games.

This was a rematch of the Wimbledon quarter-final, a close affair in which Paszek pushed the world number one to a second-set tie-break. But grass is by far the Austrian’s best surface, and she made far too many unforced errors against Azarenka, who defended well and stayed consistent throughout the match.

Wozniacki faced a stiffer challenge from Slovakian veteran Daniella Hantuchova. At the end of an hour-long first set in which there was little to separate the two players, Wozniacki raced into a commanding lead in the tie-break, eventually taking it 7-3. The second set was much more comfortable for the Dane. She broke the world number 33 three times, rounding out a 7-6, 6-1 victory.

Wozniacki is bidding to continue her winning streak in Asia, following her first title of the year in Seoul last week. Today’s match was a big improvement on her first round clash with Bojana Jovanovski, which went to a tight deciding set. In that match, Wozniacki played too defensively and failed to pull the trigger when she had an opening in rallies. She will be particularly pleased with her serving performance against Hantuchova, as she didn’t face a single break point in the entire match.

Next up for Azarenka will be a date with Italian Robert Vinci, against whom she has never lost a set. In what is arguably the most enticing third round match-up, Wozniacki will play the seventh seed Li Na. The Chinese has won three of their four meetings, and has an aggressive style of play that causes problems for the Dane. A win against Li would be one of Wozniacki’s best of the year, and signal a genuine return to form following a season full of disappointing losses.

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