Wild card Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, playing her first US Open since 2015, now finds herself in the third round of the 2018 edition, following a 6-1, 6-2 victory over No.25 seed Daria Gavrilova of Australia on Wednesday.
Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka, who lost in the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals to Serena Williams, gave birth to her son Leo following that 2015 appearance in New York, but on this day, it was like she had never been away, moving into the round of 32 for the tenth time in her career.
In the first meeting between the two players, former World No.1 Azarenka had little trouble completing the upset of the seeded Gavrilova, claiming the second-round match after 82 minutes of play. Azarenka had 13 winners to 12 unforced errors, while Gavrilova fired a whopping 27 unforced errors, well outpacing her 14 winners.
In the third round, Azarenka could face defending champion and No.3 seed Sloane Stephens, if the American can find her way past qualifier Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine later on Wednesday.
Azarenka started the match with aplomb, breaking Gavrilova in the Australian’s first two service games with strong service returns and deep forehands, and the Belarusian jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the contest.
Gavrilova got on the board in the following game, breaking Azarenka at love with a forehand winner down the line, but Azarenka swiftly reclaimed her double-break advantage for a 4-1 lead, after a scintillating backhand winner on her second break point of the game.
In the next game, Azarenka fended off a break point with a forehand winner en route to 5-1, and the Belarusian would not be stopped in the set from there, taking Gavrilova’s serve and the resulting one-set lead on her second set point, after the 25th seed sent a backhand into the net.
Azarenka’s game continued to stay in full flight at the start of the second set, breaking Gavrilova for a seemingly decisive 2-1 lead after a cheeky drop shot by the Belarusian forced a long error from last year’s New Haven titlist.
However, Gavrilova fought back at 3-1 -- nearly at the same juncture she had broken Azarenka in the opening set -- when she prevailed in a protracted game to get back on serve, following a wide forehand miscue by Azarenka while down break point.
However, Azarenka jumped back on court and immediately reached triple break point on Gavrilova’s serve in the next game, and although well-timed service winners by the Australian helped to pull her back to deuce, Azarenka obtained and converted a fourth break point to lead 4-2, up a break once more.
That would end up being the crucial moment, as a determined Azarenka held at love for 5-2, then once again took the first three points in Gavrilova’s service game, queuing up triple match point. This time, Azarenka closed out the game straight away, as a powerful forehand forced Gavrilova to net her reply, and the former World No.1 kept her hopes for a first US Open title alive.