NEW YORK (AP) — Pushed deep into a corner, Victoria Azarenka swung from defense to offense with a wicked cross-court backhand winner.
A few moments earlier, she was teetering on the edge of a straight-set loss in the first round of the U.S. Open. Now she pumped both her fists and screamed with all the momentum on her side.
Azarenka rallied from a set down to beat 90th-ranked Misaki Doi 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1 on Tuesday. The U.S. Open runner-up to Serena Williams the last two years, Azarenka is seeded 16th after a season disrupted by injuries.
She missed the French Open and most of the spring because of a left foot injury. Azarenka then pulled out of the hard-court tuneup in Cincinnati earlier this month, where she was defending champion, to rest a right knee injury.
“Coming back from not playing in general is always tough because you need to get that momentum,” Azarenka said. “I’ve been working hard on my body; I feel like I’m improving in every aspect. Sometimes it’s challenging to get the rhythm because your physical ability raises up and your tennis has to catch up. So during the tournament it’s sometimes a battle to do that.”
In the second set, she twice went up a break only for Doi to break right back. Trying to serve out the set at 5-3, Azarenka double-faulted twice in a row to give Doi a break point.
In the next game, Doi was one point from making it 5-5 at 40-15. But Azarenka jumped all over a second serve for a forehand winner, a big shot that seemed to shift momentum. She broke Doi’s serve to clinch the set, and then rolled through the third against the 23-year-old Japanese lefty.
Azarenka had 37 unforced errors through the first two sets, and then just 10 in the third.
“I know results is going to come,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
She bristled at yet another question about her health, saying only, “I felt throughout three sets I was pretty consistent with movement and everything. So it was all good.”