PARIS (Reuters) – Former world number one Victoria Azarenka reached the fourth round of the French Open for the first time since 2013 with a 6-2 6-2 victory against American Madison Keys on Friday.
The Belarusian, who reached a career-best semi-final at Roland Garros eight years ago, was a doubt for the claycourt Grand Slam after withdrawing from the Madrid Open last month with back pain, but she has been solid so far.
“Right from the beginning I knew there would be a lot of intensity, heavy balls. I tried to be solid and put pressure on her so she cannot dictate the points,” the 15th seed said in a courtside interview.
Azarenka broke for 3-2 on her third opportunity as Keys hit a backhand long and a passing shot winner earned her another break before she bagged the opening set on serve.
She stole her opponent’s serve twice again in the second set, keeping Keys on the back foot throughout.
With the top three seeds out after Ash Barty retired injured, Naomi Osaka withdrew and Aryna Sabalenka lost on Friday, the women’s draw is now wide open.
Azarenka next faces Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who sent packing third seed Sabalenka of Belarus earlier.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)