Victoria Azarenka returns to the clay for the first time in just under two years this week, hoping for a productive fortnight in Madrid and Rome in preparation for the French Open. She will have to face an in-form player in Karolina Pliskova, who is fresh off a title in Stuttgart.
Although not her best surface, Pliskova was impressive in winning Stuttgart and managed to continue her good run in the opening round of this tournament. She had a fairly comfortable outing against Elena Vesnina, winning 6-4 6-2 against the Russian although she admits there is room to improve. “I think I could play much better. Some parts were good, but my concentration was up and down. Sometimes, after you win a tournament you feel like everything is going to be easy, and I wasn’t fighting like I was in Stuttgart. That’s what I want to improve because my next match will be very tough.” said Pliskova.
Azarenka’s first win on the clay came in straight sets over Aleksandra Krunic. One of the best returners in the game, she had her way with the Serbian’s serve – breaking 5 times overall and winning over half the points on Krunic’s serve. It’s fair to say that the Pliskova serve is a big improvement on Krunic’s but such stats can only bring confidence for the former No.1. “It’s a matter of time to get, again, in that tournament shape and the match shape. I feel like I’m repeating myself every tournament, but it is what it is. I have to play more matches. I feel that I’m moving quite well and I need to be able to do that throughout the tournament. That is only going to come with matches.” Azarenka said.
Personal issues had seen Azarenka take a prolonged absence from the tour but she is now set to play through at least Wimbledon. A statement victory against Pliskova would be a great start for her to hopefully establish herself as one of the top players in the game once more.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets