Serena Williams battles injury as Azarenka powers on
Five-time champion Serena Williams shrugged off an ankle injury to sweep into the Australian Open second round Tuesday where she was joined by world No 1 Victoria Azarenka.
Williams was coasting against Romanian Edina Gallovits-Hall in the first set when she landed heavily on her right ankle and went to ground and needed extensive treatment.
She returned to court with her ankle heavily re-strapped to rout her opponent 6-0, 6-0, but was clearly in pain with her movement hindered.
In contrast, defending champion Azarenka, in the same side of the draw as Williams and scheduled to meet her in the semi-finals, was given a testing time by another Romanian, Monica Niculescu.
The Belarusian top seed, who beat Maria Sharapova in the final last year and is defending a Grand Slam title for the first time, came from 3-0 down in the second set to eventually prevail 6-1, 6-4.
Former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki was also pushed hard by Germany’s Sabine Lisicki.
The Dane, who finished 2010 and 2011 as the world’s top-ranked player, has been struggling this year but dug deep to reel off six straight games in the third set to go through 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Elsewhere, seventh seeded Italian Sara Errani became the highest ranked casualty, crashing out to Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets, while Japan’s ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm struck a blow for older women.
The Japanese number one, aged 42, became the oldest female to win a main draw match at the Australian Open, upsetting 12th seed Nadia Pedrova 6-2, 6-0, 12 years her junior.
In doing so, she surpassed Britain’s Virginia Wade as the oldest main draw winner. Wimbledon champion Wade won in 1985 when 40 years, 138 days.
Fifteen-time Grand Slam winner Williams, 31, battled through the pain barrier against Gallovits-Hall and vowed to continue in the tournament as she searches for a sixth Australian crown.
“Oh, I’ll be out there,” she said when asked if she would be playing her next match on Thursday, against either Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova or Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
“I mean, unless something fatal happens to me, there’s no way I’m not going to be competing. I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine.
“I’ve been injured before,” she added. “I’ve played this tournament with so many injuries and was able to come off pretty on top.”
Fresh from claiming her 47th career title in Brisbane and with a rare calendar-year Grand Slam in her sights, she will ice her ankle and await the doctor’s verdict.
An injured Williams will play into the hands of Azarenka, who six won WTA titles last year but was forced to withdrew from Brisbane, where she was due to meet Williams in the semi-finals, with a toe injury.
She showed little effect from the toe problem on Rod Laver Arena, quickly racing to the first set 6-1, showcasing a sparkling array of shots.
But the 49th ranked Niculescu found her feet in the second set and pulled into a 3-0 lead before Azarenka battled back, drawing level at 4-4 then wrapping up the match when the Romanian sent a forehand long.
She next plays either Eleni Daniilidou of Greece or Czech Karolina Pliskova, with the other key player standing in the way of her title defence, Sharapova, in the other half of the draw.