Azarenka keeps title defence on track as players rush to beat the heat at Australian Open

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:02am

Victoria Azarenka began her bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson on Tuesday as the predicted heat wave arrived at Melbourne Park.

Conscious of the time and the temperature, former No 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and No 11 Simona Halep raced to straight-set wins in their first-round matches on the other show courts.

Second-ranked Azarenka had a tougher time on Rod Laver Arena against Larsson, who twice had chances to serve for the first set but lost it in a tiebreaker.

“Yeah it was a tough set first. The match was going to be tricky ... the weather was not helping,” Azarenka said. “I had to play a little bit and find my rhythm.”

Both players had trouble holding serve, with a combined six service breaks in 66 minutes leading into the tiebreaker. No 91-ranked Larsson was taking big cuts with her ground strokes and forcing Azarenka to defend in the first set. The two-time defending champion started getting on top in the second and didn’t drop serve once. Both players draped bags of ice over their necks and shoulders and sat under cover in the changeovers, and went to the back of the courts seeking shade between points.

Temperatures topped 38 degrees Celsius early on the second day of the tournament and continued to rise. A hot, gusty breeze swirled across the venue.

With the hot conditions forecast to last at least until Friday, the higher-ranked players were desperate to progress quickly.

Wozniacki raced to a 6-0, 6-2 win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino in her first grand slam match since her New Year’s Eve engagement to golfer Rory McIlroy.

Halep was off the court within an hour after a 6-0, 6-1 win over Polish qualifier Katarzyna Piter, while American Christina McHale advanced 7-5, 6-4 over Taiwan’s Chang Yung-jan and No 16 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain beat Vania King of the United States 6-3, 6-2.

No 25 Alize Cornet only had to win one game before Polona Hercog of Slovenia retired with an undisclosed injury. Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany didn’t make it on to court, withdrawing before his first-round match due to a strained left hamstring.