Serena vs. Pera; Gauff vs. Dolehide; Venus vs. Azarenka; Stephens vs. Fernandez—all first-round matches, all live on Tennis Channel starting at 11 a.m. ET. And visit TENNIS.com on Tuesday for our Lexington live blog.
Last year, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka kicked off the 2019 season with a memorable first-round clash in Auckland. While their names alone will always attract a sizable audience, not as much was expected in terms of match quality based on their trending form. Instead, the pair of former world No. 1s delivered one of the best matches of the year, a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory for Williams. The American, who fought back from break down at 2-3 in the third set, described that battle as one of the toughest first-round matches in her career.
Once again, Williams and Azarenka will help kick-start a hard-court tournament, this time fresh off a five-month hiatus induced by the coronavirus pandemic. After last year’s brilliant encounter, it would be unwise to sleep on their current form, though Azarenka acknowledged a significant dip in her ambition.
"I don't know if I have a new appreciation for tennis," Azarenka told TENNIS.com. "I feel like my love for tennis has never really gone away. Motivation is something that can go up and down, and it went down a lot."
Williams owns a 5-2 head-to-head advantage over the Belarusian, but this match, like the rest, will come down to first-strike tennis. Neither player glides across the court the way they once did, but their raw power remains intact. Do not expect many long rallies on Tuesday at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington, K.Y., especially if this match is moved indoors with the week-long weather forecast looking abysmal.
A solid first-serve percentage is imperative for both players, as they both inflict massive damage on weak replies, and crush their second serve returns.
Both Azarenka and Williams break the 6’0” threshold, making it easy for them to destroy second serves that fall in their strike zone.
Defense has never been the specialty for either multiple major champion, so gaining the offensive advantage early on is paramount.
Much like their Auckland meeting, expect to see first-strike tennis at it’s finest.
According to the oddsmakers, Azarenka is a slight favorite, but judging by her recent quotes, and a fairly lopsided head-to-head series, a Williams victory seems the more likely outcome.
Perhaps Azarenka is being coy and lowering expectations, but hearing a player admit their motivation “went down a lot,” is not promising. No matter the result, we should all enjoy what could be one of the last meetings between two of the game’s great champions.
The Pick: Venus Williams