Champ Azarenka still shaking off the rust

Jan 15, 2013, 12:54 IST | AFP

World number one Victoria Azarenka said Tuesday she had to yell at herself to refocus and get with it as she shook off early season rust in a hard-fought Australian Open first round win.

The Belarusian top seed, who beat Maria Sharapova in the final last year, is defending a Grand Slam title for the first time and had to overcome some stiff second set defiance from Romania's Monica Niculescu.

She finally did what was required to go through 6-1, 6-4, but only after shouting at herself repeatedly at the baseline.

"It was just kind of to bring me back into competition, because I felt like the first set was really flowing my way and everything was going well for me. I was executing what I wanted," she said.

"And then, I kind of miss-hit a few shots and she got really competitive. I felt like I was on the practice court a little bit, letting go a few things that I shouldn't.

"After that I just really had to pump myself up to get into that state of mind of competitiveness. From there, I got back and I started to do the right things again."

Victoria Azarenka after the match. Pic/ AFP

The 23-year-old won six WTA titles in 2012 but she was forced to withdrew from this month's Brisbane International with an infected big toe, hampering her Grand Slam build-up, but she showed few ill effects on Rod Laver Arena.

She quickly raced to a 3-0 first set lead, showcasing a sparkling array of shots, closing it out in just 31 minutes.

But the 49th ranked Romanian found her feet in the second set and pulled into a 3-0 lead before Azarenka battled back, drawing level at 4-4 then wrapping up the match when Niculescu sent a forehand long.

"I couldn't wait to get out there and play. It's been a long week of preparation, so you always feel like a little bit overwhelmed before your first match," she said.

"But I think I had a good first match. That's what I needed to get into that competitive spirit, which I did. I'm happy. It's a good match to build up from."

Azarenka next plays either Eleni Daniilidou of Greece or Czech Karolina Pliskova, not that she would know -- she admitted that she never looked at the draw.

Asked if she even knew who was on her side of the draw, and a likely opponent before the final, she replied: "No.

"Well, obviously who plays today, they are in my half. That's common sense. But, no, not even curious," said Azarenka, who added that she had ignored the draws for six or seven years.

"Because I used to look all the time and it made me think too much. What's the point?"

Azarenka then will not be aware that standing in her way of back-to-back Australian titles is 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who is in the same half with the two due to meet in a blockbuster semi-final.

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