Tokyo - Former world number one Victoria Azarenka fought the
gremlins to beat Japan's Kurumi Nara 6-4, 7-5 and reach the last 16 of the Pan
Pacific Open on Tuesday.
The Belarusian, who has tumbled down the rankings following
a messy custody battle over baby Leo, ironed out the glitches just in time with
Nara threatening to force a deciding set in Tokyo.
Currently ranked 63rd and contesting the tournament as a
wildcard, Azarenka smashed her racquet on the court in fury at her wastefulness
before converting her fourth match point with a thumping cross-court backhand
after an hour and 52 minutes.
"It was definitely a little tougher than it should have
been," said Azarenka.
"I had so many opportunities to close the match earlier
but she's a great fighter," added the former Australian Open champion, who
blew a kiss to Leo and promised to bring him to Tokyo next year.
"But a win is a win so I'm happy."
Earlier, Croatia's Donna Vekic took advantage of a litany of
errors from American Sloane Stephens, the tournament's fifth seed, to topple
last year's US Open champion 6-4, 6-4.
Johanna Konta showed glimpses of the form that made her a
top-five player last year by crushing Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski 6-2, 6-0.
The Briton reached a career-high fourth in the world last
year when she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals but has since slipped to 43rd
in the rankings after a wretched run of form.
"It was a tough match, the scoreline didn't show the
quality of it," insisted Konta, although she was fooling nobody after an
embarrassingly lopsided contest.
"She definitely played really well in parts and I had
to really raise my level to come through that."
Australia's Ashleigh Barty ousted American Coco Vandeweghe,
who partnered her to the US Open doubles title earlier this month, the seventh
seed coming through 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Eighth seed Barbora Strycova negotiated a potentially tricky
opener against Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas with a solid 6-4, 6-4 victory, sealed
with a fifth ace belted down the centre line.
Elsewhere, American Alison Riske upset fellow qualifier
Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-4, 6-4 to reach the last 16 of a tournament whose
list of former champions includes tennis greats Martina Navratilova, Steffi
Graf, Kimiko Date and Martina Hingis.