Victoria Azarenka had the biggest fight on her hands in weeks but still found her way to the quarterfinals of the Miami Open Monday. The 2012 champ had to play each set to the distance but defeated Garbine Muguruza 7-6(6), 7-6(4) at Crandon Park Tennis Stadium.
Two of the worlds best got at it for the first time in their careers for a chance at a quarterfinal spot. Between the two and their journey so far, Azarenka had it easier than the Spaniard winning both her matches in straight sets. Muguruza had it difficult in the first round playing Dominika Cibulkova in a three set nail biter that Muguruza edged to victory.
Azarenka earned her first bagel of the tournament knocking out Magda Linette Sunday. With her looking to become the first player to win Indian Wells and Miami in the same year since Steffi Graf, the Belorussian would have to tame the world No. 4 or face her first tough loss of the season.
She stayed on serve with Muguruza through the first pair until the Belorussian gained the early break, which took plenty of effort on deuce with the Spaniard. The Spaniard rallied to her own break in the fourth being given the chance on unforced errors by Azarenka to level back. She was performing tremendously well on serve countering the direction of the ball that helped her secure points. After five, Muguruza led with the break with her skills of getting Azarenka out of her comfort zone by making her play.
The same notion was in the head of the former number one who held service in the sixth. Muguruza did the same in the seventh gaining a love service chance by forcing Azarenka to chase the ball before being shutout. She struck back in the eighth when the two later got into a contested ninth for the lead. It was Muguruza once again out front looking to break the former number one and put a grip of leading in the match.
She didn’t in her first attempt for the set as Azarenka put up a fight on serve to press on for a shot of her own. Muguruza shut the door on her with fierce actions on return in the rallies laying out the ball accurately to win. She earned another chance to take the set but the Belorussian forced a tiebreaker to be played after 12.
Neither player gave up much of a lead, as the key shots were so well and crucial that it left their opponent little time to recover. An error from Azarenka gave Muguruza a 5-4 lead nosing out front time and again. Azarenka got the lead at 7-6 setting her up for victory where her serve dominated watching Muguruza launch the ball into the net ending the titanic bout in one hour and seven minutes. Azarenka clearly had the stronger serve but the winners from Muguruza kept her in the set despite having 21 unforced errors.
Azarenka took serve in the second with the top ranked Spaniard still creating unforced errors on her end. Good ball placement nearly had a second victory but before she got it, Muguruza turned it around and made Azarenka earn it after three breaks. The Belorussian had a huge 3-0 against Muguruza hoping that it might be the end of her forceful fight on court.
She found life on serve in the fourth but the two game lead by Azarenka was a big moment with her in reach of the match. She got the big 5-2 lead on the Spaniard where Game Eight became critical for the biggest win of her tournament run. Muguruza did everything to stay in the match attacking with big shots inside Azarenka’s end.
It wasn’t easy for Azarenka on serve in the ninth as she had a huge problem making Muguruza struggle on the rallies. Instead the Spaniard was there each time racking up the returns that left the Belorussian boggled. She climbed up another win to pressure Azarenka to play the set through ten. She did just that as Muguruza held serve making the set go on and push the match to its distance.
Azarenka thought she might have it down after winning the 11th but a huge response from Muguruza in the 12th set up another tiebreaker to determine the fate of the match. It was again the expertise of the Belorussian in the tiebreaker that saw more fight from Muguruza but not enough to overtake the former champion of the tournament as she went on to win ending the 2 hour and 11 minute match.
“She played very aggressive tennis,” Azarenka said during her on court interview. “She was hitting the lines well. Everything was working. I felt like I could have been a little more aggressive to put more pressure but she came out blasting and serving so well. I just tried to turn it around try to control the game and on the set points I just wanted to make a difference and I went for it.”
The hard work on court moved her into the quarterfinals where she’ll take British star Johanna Konta who she bowed out to once in the past. “She’s such a great player so to me it’ll be exciting to see someone rising and playing so well so it’ll be a test for me.”