Venus wins three-set thriller against Azarenka

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – The ageless Venus Williams launched her 25th year as a professional by outlasting Victoria Azarenka in a three-set thriller on Day 2 of the WTA Auckland Classic Tuesday, January 1.

In the showdown between two former world No. 1 players, the 38-year-old Williams overcame Azarenka, 9 years her junior, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.

The 2 hour 10 minute marathon was packed with power and precision, and in the end Azarenka's 9 aces were not enough.

Williams' superior accuracy in the opening stages gave her the 1st set, before Azarenka took the 2nd by blasting winners as she moved her opponent from side to side.

In the deciding 3rd set, there were two breaks by each player in the first 6 games before Williams opened a gap to go 5-3 up when Azarenka was wide with a cross-court forehand. The American then served for the match.

"I love my job, I love what I do but tonight was not easy and maybe one of the toughest first rounds I've ever played," Williams said, adding it was what she needed to start the year.

"My goal was to get past the first round, did you see who I had to play, and we need these matches going into the Australian Open," she said, referring to the year's first Grand Slam which begins in just under two weeks.

"Now I'm hoping the next round will be fruitful for me."

Defending champion Julia Goerges coasted through her first match with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Sweden's Johanna Larsson, while 5th seed Barbora Strycova was forced into a three-set battle to survive Taylor Townsend. 

Strycova raced to a 5-1 lead over Townsend before the American lifted her game to force the match to a deciding set in which the Czech prevailed, to win 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3. 

"It was very tough, I thought I was playing well at the beginning and she couldn't find the court in the 1st set," Strycova said. 

"But then she started to serve better and with the wind and (her) a lefty, this mix wasn't good for me and I couldn't close it up at the end of the 2nd set." 

Fourth seed Petra Martic and injured 8th seed Alison Van Uytvanck both bowed out in the first round. 

American Sofia Kenin produced the first upset of the tournament when she knocked out Martic 7-5, 2-6, 6-2. 

Van Uytvanck retired with an ankle injury when leading Dutch qualifier Bibiane Schoofs 4-3 in the 1st set. 

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki will make her first appearance on Wednesday after a weather-delayed flight from Florida saw her match against Laura Siegemund of Germany pushed back a day. – Rappler.com