The big showdown between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka lived up to the hype Friday night at Indian Wells.
The two good friends and moms slugged it out for over two hours in a competitive, exhilarating affair which ended on the side of Serena who held on for a tough 7-5, 6-3 win.
Serena led early 5-3 but but couldn’t seal it that easily. There were shades of her collapse to Karolina Pliskova at the Australian as Azarenka came back to level. But Serena stepped up and took the opener.
The points were long, the games were long as both former No. 1s were leaving everything on the court.
In the second, it was Azarenka getting an early break lead but it was immediately taken back. Eventually, on her third match point Serena finally closed it out.
“You can’t really enjoy it, because then you’ll lose focus,” said Serena of high level of the match. “You’ve got to kind of stay in the moment, you know. And it’s important to — like, sometimes you realize, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be a classic.’ But you can’t let your mind go there, because you wouldn’t want to watch it in the future.”
Azarenka finished just 4-of-15 on break chances.
“Serena pushes me to play my best tennis,” Azarenka said. “You know, she really won. She deserved to win. She played better on those important moments. I felt that every game was ad, deuce, ad, deuce. It was all about who was going to take that chance, and she took them a little better today.”
It gets no easier for Serena, she’ll next face Garbine Muguruza on Sunday. The mercurial Spaniard whipped Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-3.
Elina Svitolina had to come from a set down to dent the upset-minded Sofia Kenin 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4. Elise Mertens ousted American teen phenom Amanda Anisimova 6-4, 6-2.
Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep and Ash Barty were also winners.
The big upset on the day was reigning Miami champion Sloane Stephens losing once again to Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-0. The Swiss, who won the last eight games of the match, now leads Stephens 5-1 in their head-to-head.
“I played her a few times before, and she’s a really good player, so I didn’t expect this at all,” Voegele told wtatennis.com.
“She probably just doesn’t like [my game] and she’s getting so many balls back. Today, it was really windy, and it was not easy to put the ball in. I tried to move well and not play too close to the lines.
“I’m happy that I tried to stay in there, even when there were some points that didn’t work out the way I wanted, and I’m happy about the end.”
2018 surprise finalist Daria Kasatkina was also ushered out by Czech talent Marketa Vondrousova 6-2, 6-1.
On tap Saturday, the second round concludes with former Wimbledon champions Venus Williams battling Petra Kvitova.
Naomi Osaka opens her first career WTA title defense against the the girl who beat her in Dubai, Kristina Mladenovic.
Angelique Kerber, Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki are also making their debuts.
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