Azarenka avoids the curse of world No 1 as Robson falls


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The Independent Online

Victoria Azarenka has enjoyed so much success since the start of this year that she has yet to face the jibes that are often aimed at female world No 1s. It helps, of course, that the 22-year-old from Belarus has won a Grand Slam title, which three of her recent predecessors who topped the rankings – Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki – had not.

Nevertheless, when Azarenka trailed Italy's Alberta Brianti, the world No 105, by a set and 4-0 in the first round of the French Open yesterday, it seemed the curse of the world No 1 was about to strike again. No top seed has lost in the first round of the women's singles here.

Azarenka had been spraying the ball to all corners of Court Philippe-Chatrier, but five points from defeat she finally got her game and her head together. The match was never pretty – 104 of the 201 points were decided by unforced errors, 60 of them from Azarenka – but the world No 1 looked much more comfortable by the end of her 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

"Bad days happen," Azarenka said. "The first match, they're not easy, but at the end of the day I managed to get through those 60 mistakes and still win the match. I was waiting quite a long time here for my first match, so I couldn't wait to get out there. Maybe I was rushing so much to finish the point or I was a little burned out before the match, but these things happen. Plus, I have to give her a lot of credit. She played really well and she pushed me to dig deep."

Azarenka, who became world No 1 by winning this year's Australian Open, will no doubt be aware that the last five Grand Slam titles have been won by five players. One is Li Na (below), the defending champion here, who beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-1.

Jankovic, who has dropped out of the top 20, beat Austria's Patricia Mayr-Achleitner 1-6, 6-1, 7-5. The Serb had made first-round exits in her previous four clay-court tournaments.

Laura Robson's French Open debut ended in a 6-2, 6-1 defeat by an experienced clay-courter, Anabel Medina Garrigues. Robson, who lost in the last round of qualifying but took a place in the main draw after a withdrawal, failed to take any of four break points. Medina Garrigues, the world No 31, converted four of five.

"I definitely think that I should have taken the opportunities on the break points," Robson said. "But it's hard to know what to do on those points, especially against someone as experienced as her. I could have just stepped back and made the ball, but then the reason I had the break points in the first place was because I was playing aggressively. It's a very fine line and something that needs to be worked on. I'm sure I'll get it in the end."

While clay is a major challenge for Robson, whose movement has always been her weak point, the 18-year-old Briton has a big-hitting game that can bring major rewards on grass. She is looking forward to playing at Nottingham, Edgbaston and Eastbourne in the build-up to Wimbledon.

Robson hopes to return to the All England Club for the Olympics, but may have a better chance of a wild card in doubles rather than singles. The 2008 junior Wimbledon champion will play doubles in the grass-court season with Heather Watson, the 2009 US Open junior champion. Watson and Anne Keothavong play their first matches here today, against Elena Vesnina and Melinda Czink respectively.