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Victoria Azarenka vs Naomi Osaka WTA Rome Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Azarenka begins Rome campaign against Japanese young gun, Osaka.

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 13 May 2018
  • Victoria Azarenka vs Naomi Osaka is live from Rome on Monday, 14 May from 1:30pm local time/ 12:30pm BST
  • Azarenka won their only previous meeting at the 2016 Australian Open
Victoria Azarenka. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Former world number one, Victoria Azarenka opens her Rome campaign on Monday when she takes on Japanese young gun, Naomi Osaka in the first round. 

Azarenka returns to Rome after missing last season’s edition, as she continues to rediscover her feet on the WTA Tour after a difficult year. The two-time Grand Slam champion gave birth to her first child in December 2016; and returned to the tour in the summer of 2017 for the grass-court season, but she played just two tournaments- Mallorca and Wimbledon- before taking another lengthy break from the tour after getting embroiled in an ugly custody battle with her former partner, which prevented her from taking her son out of the United States.

Azarenka eventually returned to the WTA Tour at Indian Wells, where she lost to Sloane Stephens in the second round, but she roared back to form in Miami, beating Madison Keys, Anastasija Sevastova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova before falling to Stephens again in the semi-finals. Playing her first tournament on clay since Roland Garros 2016, Azarenka reached the second round in Madrid, beating Aleksandra Krunic 6-3 6-3 in the first round before succumbing to Karolina Pliskova in the next round after a three-set battle. She would have been disappointing by the loss, but given the form Pliskova had been in, it wasn’t the worst defeat in the world!

After being outplayed in the opening set by Pliskova, Azarenka returned the favour in the second set, setting up a gripping deciding set in the Spanish capital. Pliskova jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the final set, but Azarenka took the next three games, and after failing to convert any of four break points, virtual match points, in the eleventh game, the Belarusian dropped her serve in the next game to concede match after two hours and eight minutes.

Ranked outside the top 200 at the start of the year because of her inactivity, Azarenka has broken back into the top 100, and now that she is committed to playing consistently until the end of the grass court season at the very least, that ranking will definitely improve in the next couple of months. Azarenka is a former finalist in Rome, back in 2013, while she lost out in the semi-finals in 2009. She failed to cross the opening round in her last visit to the Foro Italico in 2016; and will be keen to avoid successive opening round defeats at the tournament when she takes on Osaka on Monday.

Long touted as a ‘next big thing’ in women’s tennis, Osaka made her most telling move on the tour in an absolutely sensational title-winning run at Indian Wells, featuring wins over Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina in an immense week.

Osaka made just two quarter finals in a mediocre 2017, a year she ended at No. 68 in the world, but she already done significantly better in the new year, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open- her best Grand Slam performance; quarter finals in Dubai before that tremendous run at Indian Wells. She backed that up with a nerveless victory over Serena Williams in the opening round in Miami before falling to Elina Svitolina in the second round at Key Biscayne.

Osaka opened her clay court season in Charleston, where she reached the third round, but she crashed to an opening round defeat to China’s Shuai Zhang in Madrid. Osaka is not renowned for her clay-court prowess, she was 2-5 last season, winning a couple of matches on the green clay of Charleston before losing four successive first round matches in Stuttgart, Rome, Strasbourg and Roland Garros. Her current clay court record may be unremarkable, but after seeing fellow big-hitters, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova win Stuttgart and Madrid respectively, there is every reason to believe that the Japanese young gun will eventually come good on the surface. Osaka has leapt into the top 30, largely due to those performances at Indian Wells and Melbourne, and with not much to defend for the rest of the year, she has got an excellent opportunity to really attack that top 10 in the remainder of the season. After losing to Laura Siegemund in the opening round in her debut appearance in Rome last year, can Osaka get her first win at the Foro Italico when she confronts former world number one, Victoria Azarenka on Monday?

Azarenka dropped just two games in their only previous meeting, but that was back in 2016, and Osaka is a very different, certainly more confident player these days. The Japanese knows just one way of playing, and she will take the game to Azarenka, especially on the forehand wing, but Azarenka will enjoy the challenge, being the great competitor that she is. The Belarusian may not hit as big as Osaka, but she is no slouch in that department, but more importantly, she moves and defends better than the Japanese, which is always handy on this surface. The former world number one has been playing well since returning to the tour, and I think she will have too much nous for Osaka on Monday.

Victoria Azarenka vs Naomi Osaka is live from Rome on Monday, 14 May from 1:30pm local time/ 12:30pm BST

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Victoria Azarenka vs Naomi Osaka WTA Rome Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Azarenka begins Rome campaign against Japanese young gun, Osaka.

Victoria Azarenka opens her Rome campaign with a blockbuster clash with Naomi Osaka. Can the former world number one take down the Japanese young gun? Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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