The world no. 40 Belarusian Victoria Azarenka stormed through her first two matches at the 2019 Wimbledon, defeating Alize Cornet and Ajla Tomljanovic. On Friday, she is set to face Simona Halep in a rematch of a round of 16 encounter two years ago. Back then, Azarenka was just beginning her pregnancy comeback trail, a struggle that might be over very soon.
The former world no. 1 and a two-time Australian Open champion had her comeback halted by a custody case, forcing her to withdraw from numerous tournaments in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. With these issues behind her now, Azarenka has been making steady progress and it’s just a bunch of unlucky draws and tough matches she couldn’t close out that are holding her back from another great period in her career.
At the French Open, Azarenka was handed the toughest of draws, having to face the 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko and the then no. 1 Naomi Osaka in her two opening rounds. She played well to lead the Japanese 6-4, 4-2 but faltered on her own serve and allowed Osaka to jump back into the match.
A huge opportunity
Azarenka left a good impression on Wednesday, taking 12 straight games after being down 0-2 in the opening set to Ajla Tomljanovic.
The upcoming match with Simona Halep seems like that kind of opportunity that can turn the whole season around. The Romanian is not a natural grass court player and looking past her, the only seeded player left to face until the semifinals would be Caroline Wozniacki, who has never progressed past round 4 at the SW19.
Can she take it?
This surface gives Azarenka the most to work with against Halep and should allow her huge groundstrokes to penetrate the court with ease. This is a question of rising up to the occasion – will Azarenka be motivated by the opportunity or rather scared of taking what should be on her racket.
The Belarusian is still one of the best in business when it comes to return of serve and will be able to take advantage of Halep’s weaker delivery. The Romanian might have to go for broke here as the way she was allowed to serve and still win against Buzarnescu just won’t cut it against Azarenka’s power. With not that many experienced players left in the field, she might even have a shot at winning it all.