BRISBANE (Reuters) – The decibel readings were not needed for Victoria Azarenka on Monday as the groans from the crowd at the Brisbane International almost drowned out her trademark shrieks.
Still struggling to get back to her best, the former world number one was beaten 4-6 7-6(7) 6-4 in the first round by Czech Karolina Pliskova.
The crowd at the Pat Rafter Arena, aware of the injuries and personal problems the Belarussian has endured over the past year, urged her on but their vocal backing was not enough.
Azarenka was the architect of her own defeat.
She failed to convert two match points in the second set and made nine double faults and 44 unforced errors in a match that lasted 3-1/4 hours.
At 25, time is still on Azarenka’s side and there were enough positive signs to show she can get back towards the top but the road to a full recovery looks likely to be a slow one.
A year ago, Azarenka arrived Down Under hoping to successfully defend the Australian Open title she won in 2012 and 2013 but bowed out in the quarter-finals.
She suffered a foot injury that saw her miss most of the first six months of the year and then had a knee problem. Azarenka finally abandoned the season in September after playing just 24 matches all year and not winning a title.
She plummeted down the rankings and split up with her boyfriend Stefan Gordy, better known as Redfoo, one half of LMFAO, the U.S. pop duo behind the hit single “I’m Sexy and I Know It”.
Azarenka started the Brisbane International ranked 42nd in the world but not without hope. She is healthy again, physically and emotionally, and determined to get back to where she was.
Monday’s match was her first since September and Pliskova was a difficult and dangerous first-round opponent, ranked 23rd in the world after winning two WTA title last year.
For a while it looked like old times for Azarenka. She jumped out to a 5-1 led in the opening set before the first signs of trouble came.
Pliskova reeled off the next three and although Azarenka took the set, she squandered her chances in the second before running out of puff in the decider.