AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Venus Williams rallied from a break down in the third set to beat Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 at the ASB Classic on Tuesday in what she described as one of the toughest first-round matches of her career.
That was saying something as the 38-year-old Williams has spent more than two decades on the WTA Tour.
But it is rare that two former top-ranked players and Grand Slam winners meet in the first round of a relatively small tournament such as Auckland. And the sixth-seeded Williams had to call on all of her experience to advance.
It was Williams' first goal of 2019 simply to reach to the second round. She had come to Auckland sometimes in the past hoping to play as many matches as possible in the lead-up to the Australia Open but had been undone by challenging draws.
When she saw that she had drawn Azarenka this year, a former No. 1 on the comeback from injuries and personal issues, Williams felt that fate was against her.
"Honestly, my goal was to get past this first round because did you see who I had to play today?" Williams said. "We need these matches going into the Australian Open and I actually had a very similar circumstance last year, played an amazing player and didn't really get any matches.
"So, I thought 'Oh no, not again.' I'm hoping that the next round, too, will be fruitful for me and I already got one of my goals for 2019 so more to come."
Williams appeared in good form when she swept through the first set in 48 minutes, breaking Azarenka for 3-1 and, after dropping serve at 5-2, comfortably serving out the set. Azarenka struggled with her first serve early in the match and Williams was able to step into the court to return her second serve with power.
But the tide of the match changed in the second set. After holding her serve under pressure in the opening game, Azarenka broke for a 3-1 lead and broke again to take out the set in 34 minutes.
Azarenka gained confidence as she broke Williams for an early lead in the third, clinching the break with a well-placed lob.
But Williams immediately broke back and quickly capitalized.
"Tonight was not easy, maybe one of the toughest first rounds I've ever played," Williams said. "She has the experience and the first match of the year, too."
In other matche, defending champion and second-seeded Julia Goerges beat Khanna Larsson 6-0, 6-4. Third-seeded Su-Wei Hsieh beat Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-3, fifth-seeded Barbora Strycova beat Taylor Townsend 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 and seventh-seeded Kirsten Flipkens beat Sachia Vickery 6-2, 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Alison van Uytvanck retired with an injury at 3-4 in her first set against qualifier Bibiane Schoofs.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports