Azarenka advances, Muguruza out in 3rd round in Australia
MELBOURNE: Pressure is a matter of perspective for Victoria Azarenka, who can recall days when she was worried as much about going hungry as she was about her next match.
The two-time Australian Open champion is a growing favorite for the title, growing in confidence following two injury-interrupted seasons as she tallies victories and while leading contenders are making early-round exits to open up the draw.
Azarenka dropped her opening service game without winning a point on Saturday, but recovered quickly to beat Japanese qualifier Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-1 win in 56 minutes. No. 2 Simona Halep went out in the first round, while No. 3 Garbine Muguruza lost in the third round in the match before 14th-seeded Azarenka went on court.
Asked about the apparent change in her fortunes and her frame of mind, and to contrast it with the pressure on other leading rivals, Azarenka opened up about what it has taken to develop from being a promising child player in Belarus to a contender for Grand Slam titles.
First of all, merely getting an opportunity came only from beating everyone else.
"If you're not the best, you don't get sponsored at all," she said, delving back into her past. "So that was pretty rough."
She remembered on day, on the junior circuit, which "still affects me every time."
During a nine-week stint, sometimes playing two matches a day, she said, if she missed the scheduled times when food was provided, she went hungry.
"I had no money. I didn't get to eat," she said. "So that was pressure, you know, to survive. That was survival, really. So, pressure right now is go out there and face a big opponent? OK, but when you're like hungry and you've got to go play and you have absolutely nothing, that's big pressure."
Asked if there was some kind of advantage growing up that way, she said, "That's just what makes you tough — I wouldn't call it an advantage, because it never feels like it, for sure."
Azarenka will next play No. 48-ranked Barbora Strycova, who upset 2015 Wimbledon finalist Muguruza 6-3, 6-2.
Former finalist Ana Ivanovic's match against Madison Keys on Rod Laver Arena was interrupted later Saturday for nearly an hour when a spectator, reported to be Ivanovic's coach, Nigel Sears, needed treatment in the stands for a medical emergency.
Sears is also Andy Murray's father-in-law; Murray was playing at the same time against Joao Sousa in a third round match on Margaret Court Arena and his match continued uninterrupted.
Australian Open organizers said they could not confirm the identity of the man due to privacy laws.
Ivanovic and Keys resumed their match after nearly an hour with the Serbian player leading by 6-4, 1-0.
Muguruza's loss left No. 7 Angelique Kerber as the highest-ranked player in the bottom half of the women's draw. Kerber beat Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3 to move into a fourth-round match against fellow German Annika Beck and a potential quarterfinal with Azarenka.
Milos Raonic dedicated his third-round victory, a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over Viktor Troicki on Margaret Court Arena, to victims of a shooting in a remote community in Saskatchewan, Canada which left four people dead and at least two injured.
"Today, before I stepped out on court it was a difficult day back home," the 25-year-old Canadian told the crowd. "I want to take a moment and give thoughts to that community. Today's victory was for that community, and a quick recovery and all of Canada, and I'm sure the world is behind you."
Raonic faces a tough fourth-rounder against Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian and 2015 French Open champion, who advanced with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over Lukas Rosol.
No. 8-seeded David Ferrer overwhelmed Steve Johnson 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 and to set up a meeting with another American in the next round. No. 10-seeded John Isner, who fired 44 aces as he advanced with a 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 win over Fernando Lopez.
Azarenka is one of three Australian Open champions remaining — six-time winner Serena Williams and 2008 winner Maria Sharapova are on the other half and could meet in the quarterfinals.
Strycova has only been past the third round once before in 38 Grand Slams, decided to stay in the moment after beating Mugurza, knowing her next rival was likely Azarenka.
"I will enjoy myself first because I beat No. 3 in the world," she said.
Sydney-born Johanna Konta, who beat Venus Williams last Tuesday, became the first British woman to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open since 1987 when she beat Denisa Allertova 6-2, 6-2. Her next match is against 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova, who had a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 9 Karolina Pliskova.