Victoria Azarenka showed that winning a championship wasn’t going to stop her playing to win matches at the Miami Open Friday night. The challenge came against Monica Puig in her second round match but kept it in straight sets beating her 6-2, 6-4 at Crandon Park Tennis Stadium to move into the third round.
Neither had met in tournament play and for the BNP Paribas Open champion, her five days of rest might help her be ready for her opening round match. Puig has been active in Miami winning her first round match against Catherine Bellis recovering from a tough first set loss to sweep the match in three. While her skills repertoire doesn’t match Azarenka’s her powerful swing could be a difference maker with the Belorussian fatigued.
She didn’t look at all tired from all the tennis she played last week as she stormed through the first three games holding serve in both her moments and breaking Puig right off the start. The fourth saw the Puerto Rican making a challenge on deuce but Azarenka returned strong to go up 4-0.
Puig was going nowhere fast with the hole deepening in the set and let out frustrations on the second point won by the Belorussian in Game Five. She capitalized on a comeback streak that got her to deuce sending the home crowd wild. Azarenka countered against the sudden rush of offense and won the game on a high ball from Puig that the former number one smashed across court.
Puig had the ball in the sixth trying to prevent Azarenka from getting the bagel in the set. She showed tremendous improvement landing a key ace that had her alive. Azarenka made a verbal comment about the hawk eye being wrong allowing the fans to jeer at her for nearly a minute. She served for the set but was being counted by great returns from Puig adding some energy in her shots that gave her a short lead.
She continued taking risks on court that paid off huge winning the break for her second straight victory. Three was not a charm for Puig as she faulted too many times on serve opening the chance for Azarenka to close out the set in 37 minutes. While her first serve was well below her expectations, winning points on them served well, including the returns on the second serve.
When opening the second set, Azarenka had things together winning on her serve before allowing Puig some breathing room. The set remained on serve until the Belorussian jumped out to a 3-1 lead. When Puig was on the return she played with all she had to get a victory in the fifth.
A second straight leveled the playing field for Puig while Azarenka dealt with numerous issues on the return. When the Belorussian was serving, she locked down her shots gaining an ace and a pair of winners before an unforced error killed the chance for a love service. She recovered well despite the boos from the fans that were clearly a major support for the Miami native.
The hold of serve returned after eight when Puig masterfully got the job done to stay level with Azarenka setting up a key moment to where the set would go. Control in the ninth was a tug of war between the two as neither had leverage. In the end it was the pressure that became a key factor for Azarenka to deliver to Puig getting out of a deuce draw on the break to win.
She had to look for the match win against the Puerto Rican’s serve that was doing well against the tennis superstar. Azarenka had solid responses for her in the game putting her into a triple match point before a ball landing long ended the 1 hour and 22 minute match. “She definitely had big potential playing forward,” Azarenka said about Puig to Andrew Krasny. “I had to be a little more careful because it got away from me in the set. I tried to be a little bit more aggressive because she started hitting better so I had to keep moving myself.”
She’ll face Magda Linette on Easter Sunday that will make for an interesting match if the strategy of her opponent finds the capability of playing at Azarenka’s level.