Besties Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki in Open showdown
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka stormed through a grudge match with Sloane Stephens on Tuesday to set up a mouth-watering second round clash with close friend and eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Melbourne: Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka stormed through a grudge match with Sloane Stephens on Tuesday to set up a mouth-watering second round clash with close friend and eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Azarenka, ranked just 44 at Melbourne Park after an injury-marred 2014, showed why she is regarded as the most dangerous unseeded player at this year`s tournament when she brushed aside the American 6-3, 6-2.
The Belarussian controversially defeated Stephens in the 2013 semi-final with the help of a lengthy medical timeout but needed no such antics to get past the world number 32 this time.
"I`m happy with what I did... Sloane`s a tricky opponent who has big weapons so I tried to stay aggressive and take every opportunity and control the game," she said.
Wozniacki faced a tougher assignment against American teenager Taylor Townsend, a former junior champion at Melbourne Park who showed no sign of nerves in her first appearance in the main draw.
The 18-year-old, ranked 99 in the world, went toe-to-toe with the Dane, who eventually prevailed 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 in 92 minutes.
Wozniacki, 24, said she was content to win ugly against a left-handed opponent whose serve initially unsettled her.
"I knew it wasn`t going to be the most beautiful game out there from my side, but I just needed to grind it out and just stay with her," she said.
The result brings Azarenka and Wozniacki together in the second round, a showdown between two former world number ones that would not look out of place at the business end of a Grand Slam.
Azarenka, who is unseeded after battling injuries and depression last year, said she was pleased to be back playing with no aches or pains, appearing unfazed at facing an opponent with a 4-3 win record over her.
"Being an unseeded player, it`s not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early rounds, I accept the challenges," the 25-year-old said.
"(Wozniacki) was showing some great tennis in the end of last year. I know she`s very dangerous and we always had some tough matches. I`d like to just focus on myself and what I can do to build my game and prepare."
The pair came through the junior ranks together and Wozniacki said Azarenka, who is a year older than her, was among her best friends on tour.
"We`ve always been pretty close... you know you`re best friends when you don`t talk for a few months (and) all of a sudden you talk and it`s like you`ve seen each other yesterday."
However, the affable Wozniacki said there would be no quarter given in the arena.
"Whenever you play on tour, whenever you`re on court, you just want to win, it doesn`t matter who`s on the other side," she said.
Wozniacki`s best performance at Melbourne Park came when she reached the 2011 semi-finals, while Azarenka won Australian titles in 2012 and 2013.
Azarenka admitted pre-tournament that she was uncertain what reception awaited in Melbourne after the 2013 row involving Stephens, but all appeared forgiven as fans enthusiastically cheered Tuesday`s win.