x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Azarenka arrives on big stage

Victoria Azarenka looked anything but a debutante among the world's elite tennis players last night as she dealt impressively with former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic.

DOHA // Victoria Azarenka looked anything but a debutante among the world's elite tennis players last night as she dealt impressively with former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic in a manner to suggest that she will be mixing it with the very best for years to come. Conversely, Jankovic who a year ago was celebrating going into a pleasant winter hibernation with the top ranking, needs to regroup during the coming close-season and work out how she can restore her game to its former glories.

Jankovic, who qualified for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championships by the skin of her teeth by winning two matches in Moscow last week, is, like her Serbian compatriot Ana Ivanovic, falling alarmingly from the peak of the women's game. Only briefly in the middle of the second set of her opening round-robin encounter with Azarenka did she look like deflecting the hard-hitting Belarusian from a resounding 6-2, 6-3 victory which took only 82 minutes.

Azarenka, 20, who has made rapid progress up the rankings to a career-high sixth, is considered, along with Denmark teenager Caroline Wozniacki, as the best of the young brigade coming through to challenge the usual suspects for grand slam honours. She showed no signs of nerves as she immediately seized the initiative, breaking Jankovic in the opening game and then repeating the feat to race though the opening set in barely half an hour.

Jankovic, who asked for a visit from her coach before starting the ensuing set, made a better fight of it after that and, when she finally managed to break the imposing Azarenka serve to draw level at 3-3, she looked to have the momentum. Azarenka would not be denied, however, and rose to counter that unexpected threat to take the next three games and serve notice that she will have a big say in a group headed by fragile world No 1 Dinara Safina.