Azarenka practices to put heat back into game

Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:25am EST
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(Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka's quest for a third successive Australian Open title got off to a slow start in baking temperatures on Tuesday, so instead of heading for an ice bath after her first round win over Johanna Larsson she headed back out to practice.

With temperatures tipping 40 Celsius (104F) at Melbourne Park, the 24-year-old Belarusian looked out of sorts in the opening stages, giving the feisty Swede two opportunities to serve for the first set.

Despite battling back to win a tie-break 7-2 and then cruising through the second set to complete a 7-6 6-2 win, her patchy performance early on convinced Azarenka she had to brave the heat once more to work on her game.

"I mean, it's not easy, those conditions. You can't escape those. It's pretty hot out there," the world number two told reporters after her practice session.

"I think ... the ball with the conditions bounce a lot different and a lot higher, which suited her.

"It took me a little bit of time to just adapt and find my range and find my hitting zone.

"Sometimes it can be tricky, you know, to just find your range, as it was today a little bit."

Azarenka is bidding to become the first woman to win three successive Australian Open titles since Martina Hingis achieved the feat from 1997-99.

However, her performance in the first set would have done little to frighten her challengers for the title, particularly hot favorite Serena Williams.   Continued...

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus serves to Johanna Larsson of Sweden during their women's singles match at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic