The matches come thick and fast for a returning Victoria Azarenka, who opens the night session on Thursday at the Miami Open. The 2016 champion will play 14th seed Madison Keys for the first time in their careers with the winner playing either Alize Cornet or Anastasija Sevastova.
After a far from stellar return at Indian Wells, Azarenka looked much improved in her opener here. After some early trouble, the Belarussian blitzed CiCi Bellis 6-3 6-0. While the Azarenka serve looks shakier than usual, there were signs of the trademark backhand on show throughout. She also remains one of the premier returners in the game, breaking Bellis 7 times and winning 63% of return points. “I don’t want to be over-the-moon happy, because I’m still in the tournament, and I want to continue to reach any heights and new goals, so I’m trying to be happy, grateful, but also humble and focused for the next match, because I’m still in the tournament and I want to do better. I’m never satisfied,” she said post match.
Keys poses a much different threat for Azarenka than Bellis, wielding one of the biggest serve-forehand combos in the women’s game. Her consistency remains an issue as shown by her Indian Wells exit to Danielle Collins. She failed to serve out the second set against Collins, eventually falling in a tiebreak to lose in straight sets.
It’s still too early to tell if Azarenka is a title contender but she was much improved from Indian Wells in her victory against Bellis. An on-form Keys could cause Azarenka a lot of issues but there are no indications that that is coming if the last month is anything to go by.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in straight sets