Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes Monday in the opening match on centre court at the Australian Open.
Azarenka, one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park, is coming off a win at the Sydney International last week. “Well, the score is easy. To actually play the match, it's never easy, especially for me coming here only Saturday”, she said, adding she was unsettled because she had to get to Melbourne Park so early there was nowhere open to buy her morning coffee.
“First time I actually hit on centre court was today in the morning”, she said.
The Sydney champion has gone on to reach the Australian Open final six times since 1997, winning twice. Li Na won in Sydney last year but lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters two weeks later. Li, who became the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title with her victory at the French Open last year, advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan. Clijsters was also in action later Monday.
Azarenka beat Li in the Sydney final Friday night and is starting to gain a following in Melbourne's Chinese community. “After beating Li Na, a lot of Chinese people started recognizing me”, the 22-year-old from Belarus said about her experience at a Chinese restaurant. “That's a plus.”
She'll get more local attention in coming days, with a second-round match against Australian wild-card entry Casey Dellacqua, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.
Eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska can take the top ranking by winning the Australian title. She had a battle on her hands just to make the second round, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match on Show Court 2. Mattek-Sands hit a stunning 81 winners but also had 65 unforced errors.
Radwanska remained composed after trading breaks early in the third set, winning five of the last six games.
Other women advancing included No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No.