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Tennis

Azarenka opens her title defense with a straight-set victory

Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images

The sun beat down on Victoria Azarenka as she fought for a 7-6 (2), 6-2 round-one win over Johanna Larsson.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Victoria Azarenka began her bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson on Tuesday as the start of a predicted heat wave arrived at Melbourne Park.

Conscious of the time and the temperature, former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and No. 11 Simona Halep raced to straight-set wins in their first-round matches on the other show courts.

Second-ranked Azarenka had a tougher time on Rod Laver Arena against Larsson, who twice had chances to serve for the first set but lost it in a tiebreaker.

"Yeah it was a tough set first. The match was going to be tricky ... the weather was not helping," Azarenka said. "I had to play a little bit and find my rhythm."

Both players had trouble holding serve, with a combined six service breaks in 66 minutes leading into the tiebreaker. No. 91-ranked Larsson was taking big cuts with her ground strokes and forcing Azarenka to defend. But the two-time defending champion started getting on top in the second set and didn't drop serve again.

Both players draped bags of ice over their necks and shoulders and sat under covered seats in the changeovers. They retreated into the shade at the back of the courts between points.

Temperatures hit 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) early on the second afternoon of the tournament and was expected to rise. A hot, gusty breeze swirled across the venue. Spectators on outside courts covered their heads and shoulders with damp towels to cool off.

It was the second retirement in as many matches on Court 6. No. 25 Alize Cornet only had to win one game before Polona Hercog of Slovenia retired with an undisclosed injury. Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany didn't make it onto court, withdrawing before his first-round match due to a strained left hamstring.

With the hot conditions forecast to continue at least until Friday, the higher-ranked players were desperate to progress quickly.

Wozniacki said the court was so hot in her 6-0, 6-2 win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino, which started at 11 a.m., that it seemed to melt her plastic water bottle.

In her first Grand Slam match since her New Year's Eve engagement to golfer Rory McIlroy, she did everything she could to keep cool.

''Every time in the changeovers, ice bags, ice towels, everything; and then in the second set I could feel they were starting to heat up even more,'' Wozniacki said. ''I put the bottle down on the court and it started melting a little bit underneath, the plastic, so you knew it was warm.''

No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanzka, No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 11 Simona Halep, No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova and American Christina McHale all advanced.

Garbine Muguruza of Spain, a recent champion in Hobart, beat No. 24 Kaia Kanepi.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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