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Kenin vs Azarenka tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Azarenka tries to make first WTA semifinal for 11 months in Acapulco

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 28 Feb 2019
  • Sofia Kenin faces Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel on Thursday
  • Kenin vs Azarenka is live from Acapulco on Thursday at 7.30pm local/1.30am GMT
Sofia Kenin (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka looks for her first WTA Tour semifinal in almost a year as she takes on Hobart champion Sofia Kenin in Acapulco.

Victoria Azarenka has won back-to-back matches for the first time in 2019 – can the struggling Belarusian keep her run going as she takes on Sofia Kenin for a place in the semifinals at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel on Thursday?

It was almost a year ago now that Azarenka made her return to competition at Indian Wells, having played just two tournaments since May 2016 – at first because she was on maternity leave to give birth to son Leo, and then because a custody dispute with Leo’s father kept her effectively trapped in California.

Victoria Azarenka (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
It’s no secret that Azarenka’s return to being able to travel and compete on the WTA Tour hasn’t gone quite as well as her initial results – a semifinal run at the Miami Open where she beat three top-20 players including Karolina Pliskova – seemed to promise. In fact, Azarenka hasn’t made a semifinal since Miami, compiling a 17-12 record in 2018 and winning back to back matches just three more times that season – in San Jose, where she retired against Danielle Collins; at the US Open, where she lost to Sloane Stephens; and in Tokyo, her last event of the year, where she lost to Camila Giorgi.

Azarenka was actually reduced to tears at the Australian Open after losing to Laura Siegemund in three sets in the first round, admitting she was ‘struggling’, and coming into Acapulco she was 1-3 in 2019, her solitary win coming over qualifier Margarita Gasparyan in St Petersburg. 

But up against world no. 25 Collins, who benefited from her retirement in San Jose last year and was seeded second after her Australian Open semifinal run, Azarenka found some great tennis, dropping just three games as she stormed through to the second round – then dropped the same amount of games against Tatjana Maria in her next match, winning six games in a row in both sets and taking 85 minutes to wrap up victory.

‘Physically, I feel like my movement is starting to pick up,’ Azarenka said afterwards. 

‘My execution and the timing of that was not there, so it made it look kind of inefficient, and now it’s a little bit put more together and more efficient. So I’m happy with the direction that I’m going.’

Azarenka should face her toughest test yet in the quarterfinals against a player who moves as well as she does, Sofia Kenin.

Fifth-seeded Kenin has actually come through to the quarterfinals via two retirements, progressing past Rebecca Peterson when the Swedish player pulled the plug after seven games and then Katie Boulter when the British player retired trailing 4-6, 1-4, reportedly suffering from a stomach illness which has been going the rounds.

That’s not to say that Kenin should be in any sense underestimated, because the American is a bright young star on the WTA Tour and rising fast.

At a career-high ranking of world no. 35 at the age of 20, Kenin started 2018 on the brink of the top 100 after a very good 2017 and promptly broke into it after successfully qualifying for Indian Wells and Miami and reaching the second and third rounds respectively. She went on to make her first WTA Tour semifinals in Mallorca and Quebec City and reach the third rounds of the US Open and Wuhan before ending her season by doing sterling service for the USA in their Fed Cup final against the Czech Republic, losing tough matches to Barbora Strycova and Katerina Siniakova.

Kenin made the best possible start to 2019 as she captured her first WTA Tour title in Hobart in the second week of the season, beating world no. 19 Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet on the way. She took a set from Simona Halep at the Australian Open before falling in three in a high-quality second-round encounter, and beat Mihaela Buzarnescu and 2018 runner-up Daria Kasatkina to reach the round of 16 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships before falling to Viktoria Kuzmova – all impressive results.

This will be the first meeting between Azarenka and Kenin, and I’m excited to see how it plays out, because the two women have so many similar strengths: Both are exceptional movers, great counter-punchers, who flourish when absorbing and redirecting pace – and both are gritty competitors, who love a long, physical contest (at least, Azarenka used to). I would say Azarenka is more adept at being aggressive, taking the initiative and moving forward into the court, but she’s more error-prone and less sure of herself; Kenin has the confidence, the audacity of the up-and-coming, and she’ll exploit any weakness Azarenka shows. I think it’s going to go to three sets, but I’m less sure who’s going to emerge victorious.

Kenin vs Azarenka Abierto Mexicano Telcel tennis is live from Acapulco from 7.30pm local/1.30am GMT

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Kenin vs Azarenka tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Azarenka tries to make first WTA semifinal for 11 months in Acapulco

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