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Azarenka vs Zhang WTA Rome live streaming, preview and tips - Former runner-up Azarenka seeks first Rome win in four years

Andrew Hendrie in WTA Tour 13 May 2019
  • Victoria Azarenka vs Zhang Shuai is live from Rome around 3.30pm local time on Monday (2.30pm BST)
  • Azarenka won their only previous clash in straight sets at Indian Wells in 2016
Victoria Azarenka (PA Images)

Victoria Azarenka targets her first win in Rome since 2015 when she begins her Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign on Monday against Zhang Shuai in the opening round.

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Former Internazionali BNL d’Italia runner-up Victoria Azarenka looks to return to the winners circle in Rome when she faces China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round on Monday.

It’s been four years since Azarenka tasted victory in Rome, with the former World No. 1 losing in the opening round in 2016 to Irina-Camelia Begu and missing the 2017 edition as she battled her custody dispute with her former partner, and while she returned last year, Azarenka was unfortunate to run into Naomi Osaka in the opening round as she lost 6-0 6-3. However, before those years, Azarenka was a threat in Rome, finishing runner-up to Serena Williams in 2013, reaching the semi-finals in 2009 and making quarter-finals in 2011 and 2015. Can the former World No. 1 make it to the latter stages once more in the Italian city?

It’s certainly not out of the question because Azarenka is back playing some wonderful tennis. Indeed, the two-time major champion scored her first top five victory on clay since Rome four years ago when she came back from a set down to beat defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the second round of Stuttgart a couple of weeks ago, but unfortunately she was forced to retire in the deciding set of her quarter-final against Anett Kontaveit due to exhaustion - Azarenka had jetted back from Brisbane after representing Belarus in the Fed Cup semi-finals against Australia and didn’t even get the chance to practice on clay before launching her Stuttgart campaign.

Azarenka had earlier reached her first WTA final since becoming a mother when she finished runner-up in Monterrey (she again had to retire, this time due to injury), and she continued her encouraging run of form when she knocked out Daria Kasatkina in the opening round of Madrid last week, but Sloane Stephens proved too hot to handle in the second round, although it was a quality three-set encounter. There’s no doubt Azarenka is moving in a positive direction, but she needs to keep her momentum going, because it’s taken a long time to get to this stage. As a former French Open semi-finalist and runner-up in Rome and Madrid, Azarenka has proven clay-court credentials and is a force on this surface when she’s at her best - can she launch her Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign with a win on Monday?


Zhang Shuai stands in her way first up. Zhang isn’t really known for her clay-court play, but she has put together some solid results on the surface over the years, most notably a quarter-final run in Rome back in 2014 when she beat Petra Kvitova before going down to Serena Williams, while she also made the third round of the French Open in 2017.

What Zhang is best known for was her stunning run to the Australian Open quarter-finals as a qualifier back in 2016 - the Chinese player was contemplating retirement before fighting her way into the main draw and taking out the likes of Simona Halep and Madison Keys before falling to Johanna Konta. That year would ultimately be an extremely successful one for Zhang - she made the quarter-finals of the Premier Mandatory China Open, defeating Halep again before losing to Konta once more, while she also made semi-finals in Tokyo, Guangzhou and Zhuhai to hit a career-high ranking of No. 23. Zhang would fall outside of the top 30 in 2017 as she failed to defend her Australian Open quarter-final points, but ended the year on a 10-match winning streak after picking up titles at the Tokyo $100k and Honolulu WTA 125k ITF events, and she’s managed to maintain a ranking between 30-50 for most of the time since, reaching the semi-finals in Prague, Osaka and Hong Kong last year, along with quarter-finals in Beijing - where she beat Elise Mertens and Angelique Kerber - Budapest, Acapulco and Nanchang and making the Round of 16 in Wuhan.

Zhang comes into Rome at No. 45 in the world after a bit of a sub-par season - she hasn’t won back-to-back tour-level matches since making the third round of the Australian Open, although she did get back to winning ways at the WTA 125k Series event in Anning a few weeks ago, finishing runner-up to Zheng Saisai.

Zhang is playing her first clay match of the season on Monday, and with Azarenka in the promising form that she is, I can see only one winner here. The former World No. 1 has been playing some great tennis over the last month or so, and this is a relatively kind opening round draw for Azarenka to claim another win and build more confidence for greater challenges to come. I’m expecting a comfortable first round win for Azarenka as she tries to set up a second round blockbuster with two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina.


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Azarenka vs Zhang WTA Rome live streaming, preview and tips - Former runner-up Azarenka seeks first Rome win in four years

Victoria Azarenka targets her first win in Rome since 2015 when she begins her Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign on Monday against Zhang Shuai in the opening round.

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