Victoria Azarenka’s bid to hold on to her Qatar Open title, and the world No. 1 ranking, began with victory over herself, a treacherous wind, and world No. 62 Romina Oprandi on Wednesday.
Azarenka’s 6-2, 6-3 success was encouraging both in the way she responded to being within a point of losing the first three games in irritating conditions and for her maturing sense of adaptability.
There were moments when the 23-year-old resorted to cursing and racket swishing, but Azarenka’s frustration never got out of control and her grip on the match increased as her mind imposed its focus.
With Serena Williams’ fitness still the subject of speculation, and with Maria Sharapova needing both Williams and Azarenka to falter if she is to regain the pinnacle, the top-seeded Belarussian could yet hang on to the top spot.
“It was a little bit of a slow start, and I had to adjust,” Azarenka said. “I couldn’t go for my shots, and I had to be a bit more patient. She [Oprandi] is tricky and plays so many different balls that you don’t know what to expect. I had to focus more and move my feet more.”
Next up for Azarenka is Christina McHale, the world No. 44 from the US.
Agnieszka Radwanska, whose intelligent, well-controlled game seems well suited to the conditions, earlier reached the last 16 with a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 win over Anastasia Rodionova, a qualifier from Australia. She next plays Ana Ivanovic.
Sloane Stephens, playing her first event as a top 20 player, led by a set and 5-3, but could not get past Klara Zakopalova, the world No. 24 from the Czech Republic, losing 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5).
Two other seeds were beaten, Marion Bartoli, the No. 9 from France, and Roberta Vinci, the No. 15 from Italy, bringing the total of casualties to five so far. An ailing Bartoli lost 6-4, 6-4 to Svetlana Kuznetsova, the former French and US Open champion who is looking livelier than last year.
Another former world No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki, also reached the last 16.
The athletic Dane also made a tenacious escape from 3-6 down in a first set tie-break, saving four set points altogether before beating Sorana Cirstea from Romania 7-6 (9/7), 6-0.
Wozniacki next plays Mona Barthel, the German who on Tuesday upset her fifth-seeded compatriot, Angelique Kerber.
Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei had a day to forget after losing in the singles and the doubles. No. 11 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia fought back from a set down to defeat Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in their second-round singles clash before Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain beat Hsieh and Liezel Huber of the US 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the doubles. Hsieh and Huber were the No. 5 seeds.
Additional reporting by staff writer