A small cloud of blue dust rose behind the service line as Victoria Azarenka's second double fault of the game gave Andrea Hlavackova a set point at 5-6 in the second set. Azarenka's scatter-shot serve gave Hlavackova hope; her commanding ground strokes erased it.
Swooping forward to save the set point with a slick forehand swing volley winner, the world No. 1 regained her rhythm and reeled off 10 of the final 12 points to subdue the stubborn, 117th-ranked qualifier, 6-3, 7-6 (2), in a quality clash in Madrid.
The top seed squeezed out a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round and won 12 of 14 points in building a 5-2 first-set lead today. But creating closure was complicated as Hlavackova opened her shoulders and took her chances driving the ball down the line. The 25-year-old Czech held at love for 3-5, then dug in to earn four break points in the ninth game. On the fourth chance, Hlavackova hit a tame drop shot that sat up near the service line, and Azarenka sprinted forward to belt a forehand cross-court. The ball was called out, but chair umpire Kerrilyn Cramer inspected the mark and overruled. Two points later, Azarenka closed the 36-minute set when Hlavackova's backhand return missed the mark.
Azarenka's two-handed backhand has become one of the most imposing shots in women's tennis, but Hlavackova held her own in the backhand exchanges for much of the match, sometimes driving her slap-shot two-hander up the line to disrupt the direction of rallies. Azarenka did much of her damage in the first set on the forehand side; both women hit 11 winners in the opener.
Though Hlavackova has spent much of her time playing Challengers and qualifying rounds this season, she knows her way around clay, having won the 2011 Roland Garros doubles title with compatriot Lucie Hradecka. Knowing she had to play with ambition and aggression to test the top seed, Hlavackova, who catches her service toss almost as often as Patrick Rafter once did (without the Aussie's customary 'sorry mate' apology), fought off five break points in the third game of the second set, holding with an ace for 2-1. Azarenka, who has been working with former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo as a clay coaching consultant, cracked a forehand winner to break for 3-2 when Hlavackova took an injury time-out to have her left thigh taped.
The 2011 Madrid finalist was in charge with a 6-3, 5-3 lead when things again got complicated. Hlavackova held, then took advantage of three Azarenka double faults to break back for 5-5 and gained set the set point in the 12th game. Exhaling after a hard-fought hold, Azarenka hit a forehand return winner and forcing forehand to open a 5-2 lead in the breaker. She finished with 32 winners to overcome eight double faults, while Hlavackova hit 30 winners and fought off nine of 11 break points.
Next up for Azarenka is a third-round match with either 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, who has won two of their three meetings, or Nadia Petrova, whom Azarenka has beaten three times in five meetings.