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Azarenka : I just need to trust my net game

Same tournament, same tension, same script. As it was in 2013 and 2014, two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka beat Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open, notching up a 6-3 6-2 win to book her spot in the second round with an impressive all-court display.
But there’s always a flashpoint. In the 2013 semi-final there was Azarenka’s comfort break; last year, in the round of 16, Stephens’ body shot. This time it was the scream: a swift crescendo held at full burst for a moment, a sound that spoke volumes about the rivalry – the pent-up frustration and desperation, the added desire not just to win but to win against her.
That it came from Stephens, following a netted backhand early in the second set, said even more. The American is the quiet one, calm to a fault. But she simply couldn’t contain her emotions. For a third year running, the two-time former champion was on her way to a straight-sets victory. Try as she might, Stephens could not derail her.
It was far too good a contest for the first round. The draw is fickle when it comes to unseeded players, no matter their history or prowess, and the 32 seeds would have been glad to avoid them both. Stephens had struggled to back up her breakthrough 2013 season, while Azarenka was blighted by injuries, but everyone is aware of the threat posed by two of the cleanest ball-strikers on the tour.
"Sloane is a player that she has really big weapons,” Azarenka said. “She has a really big serve and really heavy forehand. The important is just to try to control the game as much as you can. But I think she has a great potential. She's always been a dangerous player. She just needs to work hard.

The former world No.1 may have arrived as the lower-ranked player, but Azarenka looks the likelier candidate to make strides back towards the top 20 and beyond in 2015. Against Stephens she quickly zeroed her drives, allowing her to attack the net where she converted on 11 of her 12 approaches. The American could do little with Azarenka’s first serve, which painted the lines time and again before swinging away. Stephens’ delivery had the pace, but Azarenka’s had the precision.
"It's a good weapon to have, to add that to my game, just to mix it up and be able to switch the rhythm, to put some more pressure,” Azarenka said of her volleys. “Plus I just need to trust my net game. I had good results before, and in practice it looks good. I just need to bring it more in the matches.”
The third act of this uniquely Australian drama hit full flow at 2-2, after the players had traded breaks and stares across the net. Stephens is a master of hurting players with a midcourt ball but Azarenka kept her on the run, hustling the 21-year-old to shorten the points and a poor drive volley that allowed her to move 3-2 up.
That early break was as good as it got for Stephens. Azarenka was rock solid on serve and didn’t give up another break point in the match, while the world No.32 coughed up three unforced errors while serving to stay in the opener. Azarenka arrowed another cross-court backhand into the corner and the set was gone.

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