Victoria Azarenka prefers a straight-ahead attack, but she had no choice to adjust her strategy against the wily and creative Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in a 6-1 6-4 second-round Australian Open victory on Thursday night.
The Czech consistently mixed up her attack during the evening, going at the defending two-time Melbourne Park champion with headstrong net rushes, soft drop shots, towering lobs and sharply-angled groundstrokes.
Azarenka was certainly the more consistent player and was stronger off the ground, but she did grow a little frustrated at times as she found it difficult to maintain her rhythm.
“She obviously played amazing defense today, getting a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.
“So I think that’s what happened in the second set. But I'm glad I could just turn it around in the end and really get back into it and play the way I was playing in the first set.”
Strycova came into net 27 times, converting 17 of her approaches, and forced Azarenka to attempt more passing shots than usual, as net rushing in the women’s game is rare.
But the Belarusian hung in there, attacked the Czech’s serves whenever she could, and won the points that mattered most.
“She's a very tricky player and obviously can do a lot of things,” Azarenka said.
“I felt like she was really brave to do anything. Come with a second serve to the net. She went for her shots. Sometimes it was surprising, but then I realised that I just have to be alert on every point because you don't really know what's going to come. So I had to adapt and try to refocus my game, trying to control and move her around myself.
Azarenka nailed 15 winners, forced her opponent into 20 errors and committed 18 errors of her own, a plus-17 differential.
The 24-year-old is hoping to become the first women’s player to win three Australian Opens in a row since Martina Hingis did it in 1997-99.
She is currently trying to readjust her serve, and does not appear to be hitting it with the same force that she was at this time last year.
“I've been working a lot on my serve,” Azarenka said.
“I think it takes time, you know, to get that. I think it's one of the toughest shots technically to manage. You know, adjusting my body with a different type of fitness, it takes time to have that perfect timing. But I feel I'm in the right way of working with the things and get better.”
Azarenka will face the winner of Thursday night’s match between Bojana Jovanovski and Yvonne Meusberger.