Azarenka thriving on pressure as champion

Victoria Azarenka swept into the Australian Open third round on Thursday with a straight- sets mauling of Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and said she was thriving on the pressure of being defending champion.
The two-time title-holder was rarely threatened on Rod Laver Arena to blast past the Czech 6-1, 6-4 in 88 minutes, benefiting from the roof being shut on centre court because of searing heat.
“It feels pretty good, it was a good match and a competitive second set,” Azarenka, the second seed, said. “Barbora played well and I was just glad to close it out in two sets.”
As defending champion Azarenka was keen to make an impression after a lacklustre first-round showing against world number 91 Johanna Larsson, when her game was marred by errors and poor serving.
She was happy with the improvement and said didn’t mind the pressure of being one of the tournament favourites.
“I like pressure because I think it motivates you to be better,” she said. “Of course, I know that I won here twice before, but this is a completely new year for me and I always take it one at a time.
“I know it’s a long road where I only just played the second round. I just really want to focus on one game at a time.”
As she moves deeper into the tournament and a potential final against world number one Serena Williams, the 24-year-old feels her game is slowly getting better.
“I had two very different opponents I played. I’m glad that in important moments I’m finding my rhythm and I’m able to raise the level,” she said.
“I think you can always improve here and there, just try to lift your game up. It’s just important trying to find that little bit to get better with every single match you play.”
She got off on the right foot Thursday, holding serve against the experienced Zahlavova Strycova, ranked 84.
The Czech made it 1-1 when Azarenka missed an easy volley after a tight second game, but the champion made no mistake on break point in Zahlavova Strycova’s next service game.
After a long rally the Belarusian, with boyfriend pop star Redfoo cheering her on, produced a delicate drop shot to earn the break.
She held serve and, screaming her trademark, “C’mon!” made the most of her opponent’s sloppy first serve to go 5-1 ahead with a sizzling cross-court backhand and polished off the first set in just 34 minutes.
She continued in the same vein, immediately breaking for a 1-0 lead in the second set and while Zahlavova Strycova tried everything she could to claw back in a 13-minute fourth game, too many errors cost her.
But she refused to give up and the pair traded service breaks until Azarenka got on the front foot at 5-4 and sealed the match with another cross-court backhand.
She next faces either Serbian 33rd seed Bojana Jovanovski or Austrian Yvonne Meusburger as she searches for a third consecutive Melbourne title, a feat last achieved by Martina Hingis between 1997-1999.

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