In a packed schedule on Wednesday, Victoria Azarenka was one of the first big-name casualties to fall at this year's Internazionali BNL d'Italia, running into an in-form Irina-Camelia Begu. Our contributor René Denfeld recaps the straight-sets opening loss of the fourth seed straight from the courts in Rome.
The second-round encounter between Victoria Azarenka and Irina-Camelia Begu had been circled in by more than just a handful of people as a difficult draw for the Indian Wells & Miami champion — particularly considering Azarenka was forced to withdraw from the previous tournament of Madrid with a back issue after having tweaked something in her first-round match in the Spanish capital.
After today's opening match in Rome, Azarenka came into press, visibly disappointed and deflated about struggling with an injury once again after ostensibly having made a turn for the better with a strong start to the year 2016.
"Yeah, I was trying, but it didn't work," the world number six said after her match. "(My back is) not good right now. We'll see what happens. I don't know what to tell you. I'm very disappointed obviously with that. I thought I was okay and was ready to play and came back, so I'm just disappointed"
— WTA (@WTA) May 11, 2016
With the French Open looming in less than two weeks, today's performance obviously casts doubt with regard to the Belarusian's chances and Azarenka herself was reluctant to look too far ahead into the future, with her head still on court and disappointed about her body letting her down during the clay season.
"We'll see what happens. I'm not going to think about future", the 26-year-old said after her performance. "I'm sorry. I just can't look at the big picture right now. I'm sorry. I have to be here, guys, but I don't want to be here answering these questions [n.b. about her rivalry with Serena] because right now I'm disappointed of what happened today. That's what it is."
vika had 3 sessions of massages before this match. 90 minutes
— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) May 11, 2016
Before her match Azarenka had reportedly received a 90-minute treatment from the physio and during her encounter with Begu on Pietrangeli it became increasingly clear that she had not yet recovered from the ailment she had sustained in the cold Madrid conditions ten days ago.
Serving under 150km/h and barely moving as the match came to its close, Azarenka did not look in the shape or health to play her best, not even her mediocre tennis, and she was the first to lament, as well as acknowledge the fact.
"It's just unfortunate that I can't play my best tennis," the two-time Australian Open champion concluded, recognizing that she wasn't going to get past an opponent as solid on clay as Begu.
"She's a good player. Obviously the clay court suits her really well. The conditions work well for her. Yeah, I don't think there is anything changed much, but she's always been a very solid player."
With Azarenka out, the second quarter of the draw suddenly becomes a lot more open and Irina-Camelia Begu will face Daria Kasatkina for a spot in the quarters.