Top-ranked Azarenka struggles at Indian Wells
Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka struggled to get through the second round of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday, beating Germany's Mona Barthel 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6).
"That's exactly what it was, survival,'' said Azarenka, the Australian Open champion who has won three tournaments this year and is unbeaten in 18 matches.
"But it's a good feeling also to come after a match like this with a win. I got through. I think that's a good sign. To win when you're not playing your best is more joyful.''
Azarenka easily beat Barthel in their two previous matches. It started that way, too, with Azarenka leading 6-4, 5-1. But Barthel rallied to take a 6-5 lead, won the final three points of the tiebreaker, and raced to a 4-1 lead in the third set with the help of three straight double faults that cost Azarenka a service game.
This time, Azarenka fought back. She went from three games down to being up 6-5 and battled long and hard enough to finally win the tiebreaker and the match on two errant backhands by the 21-year-old Barthel.
"I think I won this match mentally more than physically or tactically or whatever,'' said Azarenka, who will face Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round. "That was really what brought me a win today, my fighting spirit `til the last moment.''
Until Azarenka escaped, the story of the day had been the play of two young American women.
Jamie Hampton, a wild-card entry who last week moved into the top 100 in the rankings for the first time (she's No. 99), opened the day's activity on Stadium Court with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over 12th-seeded Jelena Jankovic, the Serb who spent 18 weeks at No. 1 in 2008.
A few minutes later, Christina McHale, at No. 32 the only U.S. player seeded in the event, beat Elena Vesnina of Russia, 6-3, 7-5, to set up a third-round match against Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, a 6-1, 6-3 winner over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic in the late match.
Nineteen-year-old American Denis Kudla also won on the men's side, beating Germany's Tobias Kamke 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Kamke was a last-minute fill-in when Dmitry Tursunov withdrew because of a wrist injury.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and American stars Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish didn't play singles. They played doubles. Djokovic was first, and he and Viktor Troicki of Serbia lost to Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez of Spain, 7-5, 7-5.
Roddick and Fish lost to Florian Mayer of Germany and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, 6-4, 1-6, (10-8), but Nadal and Marc Lopez beat the third-seeded team of Michael Llorda of France and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-4.
McHale, playing as a seed for the first time, started slowly against Vesnina, suffering an early service break, but won five of the final six games in the opening set. She used the same script in the second set, winning four of the final five games.
The 19-year-old New Jersey resident said she wasn't nervous because of being seeded, though, because "the mentality is the same. I think she just started off really aggressive and I had to adjust to her game a little bit.''
Hampton was nervous, which was not surprising given that she never had won back-to-back matches in a WTA Tour event and her most recent match against a top-ranked player had been a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1, in the second round of the Australian Open.
She said that this time the experience gained in Australia and her first-round win over 38th-ranked Polona Hercog both were beneficial against Jankovic.
"I didn't really know what to expect,'' said Hampton, 22, who recently moved from Auburn, Ala., to Atlanta. "I think the fact that I got a match under my belt here helped me a lot. In Australia I didn't have that against Maria and she wiped the court with me. In Australia I got caught behind the baseline a lot. Basically I was back in the shadows. For me to dictate tennis I need to be inside the court. That was one of the things (against Jankovic), keeping my positioning up. It worked out well today.
"I think I can do a little bit of everything (on the court). I have a backup plan if Plan A is not working.''