Australia is a prosperous hunting ground for Victoria Azarenka – she cracked the Grand Slam winners’ circle in Melbourne Park last summer and won her first tour title here on Pat Rafter Arena four years ago.
When the Belarusian returns to Brisbane under lights tonight, her air of authority is on the line early as she looks to buck the trend of seeds to have tumbled before her at this year’s tournament.
Caroline Wozniacki started the seeds’ exodus, before Sam Stosur, Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova all followed in quick succession. Maria Sharapova never hit a ball.
Azarenka holds a 3-0 record against her power-hitting German opponent, fellow 23-year-old Sabine Lisicki, but two of their three stoushes have gone down to the wire and Lisicki was impressive against Czech leftie Lucie Safarova in Round 1.
Last year’s men’s singles runner-up, flashy Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, will follow the battle of the blondes when he takes on last year’s Sydney champion, Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen tonight. After a mutual agreement to part ways with long-haired Australian coach Jack Reader, Dolgopolov, will look to level the ledger, having lost his only previous encounter with Nieminen in 2011.
Fourth seed Angelique Kerber stands to benefit most from yesterday’s departure of Sharapova, Kvitova and Errani from the bottom half of the draw. As one of only four players to have defeated Serena Williams last year, the left-handed German starts a heavy favourite against 124th-ranked Monica Puig, a Puerto Rican qualifier best known for reaching the junior Australian Open final two years ago.
When Australian wildcard Jarmila Gajdosova was practising on the court adjacent to Maria Sharapova yesterday, little did she realise the Russian was about to withdraw ahead of their match with a right collarbone injury. Hoping to put an emotionally draining 2012 behind her, Gajdosova now stands a good chance at making a run deep into the draw if she can first negotiate her way past Sharapova’s replacement, Ukrainian lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko.
The final match of the day session pits flat-hitting sixth seed, German Florian Mayer, against Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis. Both have reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane before but after welcoming a baby daughter, Zahara, into his life last year, Baghdatis will have newfound inspiration to make his third straight quarterfinal appearance on Pat Rafter Arena.