INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Even before her opening-round match here, Victoria Azarenka was walking on shaky ground at this tournament. She had spent much of the previous month with her injured foot in a boot, but when the boot came off during her rust-filled practice sessions this week, the pain didn’t go away. And it remained with Vika on Friday night through her error-strewn, double-fault-filled, 6-0, 7-6 (2), loss to 20-year-old Lauren Davis of the United States.
Afterward, Azarenka said she fought as hard as she could, but that Davis had played her best. That was largely the truth. The mistakes started early for Vika, as Davis broke to open the match and ran away with the first set. Azarenka battled periodically, but the shanks kept coming, and Davis’s confidence kept growing over the last four games. She played above her No. 66 ranking for most of the night, taking the ball on the rise and catching the slow-moving Azarenka well out of position.
At the start of the second set, Azarenka looked ready to, if not make a run, at least stop the rot. Despite going down on one knee at the end of a couple of rallies, she broke Davis for 2-0, and led 3-1, before the pain became more severe. By 3-3, Azarenka was arming her serve. After double faulting at break point, Vika finally took a good, full swing; unfortunately, it was to smash her racquet. When Davis wobbled with the lead and was broken at 4-3, and again when serving for the match at 6-5, it looked for a minute as if Vika’s pain might continue into a third set. But this time she didn’t have enough for a full-fledged comeback. Forty-three errors and 12 double faults were too much to overcome.
Afterward, Azarenka said she injured her foot in practice three days before the Australian Open; that’s it’s an “inflammation that is nerve damage”; and that she didn’t retire tonight “because I want to learn how to go through the tough thing, how to try to do the best in the toughest situation.”
It’s understandable that Azarenka wanted to play; she's had a rough start to the season and had to skip Doha and Dubai. But as she did at the tour championships last fall in Istanbul, Vika seemed to be fighting a battle that didn’t need to be fought.
“Thinking now,” she said, “it might have been too early [to play], but I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.”
Credit Davis for playing a very good first set, and hanging in even after choking twice in the second. “It feels surreal,” she said afterward. Hopefully, things will feel a little more real for Davis by the time she plays her next match, against her countrywoman Varvara Lepchenko.