Considering this was the first match she had played for five years without Sam Sumyk in her corner, it was no surprise that Victoria Azarenka was all smiles yesterday after her 6-0, 6-3 victory over Germany’s Angelique Kerber here at the Qatar Total Open.
Beating the world No 11 was just the start Azarenka needed to the next phase of a career that has not been without its challenges in the last 12 months.
As if returning to competition after an injury-wrecked 2014 has not been hard enough, Azarenka had to deal last month with the shock of Sumyk telling her that he no longer wanted to coach her.
The Frenchman broke the news after Azarenka’s fourth-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova at the Australian Open. Before leaving Melbourne Sumyk was in talks with Eugenie Bouchard and within days he had been appointed the Canadian’s new coach following her split with Nick Saviano at the end of last year.
Azarenka won two Australian Opens and became world No 1 with Sumyk, whose wife, Meilen Tu, is her agent. Azarenka admitted yesterday that she had been surprised and saddened when Sumyk told her of his decision, though she said their conversation “is always going to stay between us and is never going to be public”. Azarenka has since appointed the Belgian Wim Fissette as her new coach.
“It wasn’t an easy situation just because of my relationship that I have with Sam,” Azarenka said of her parting of the ways with the Frenchman. “He’s been my coach for such a long time and he’s been more than a coach to me. I will never forget those moments that we had and we’re still going to be close off court and that’s never going to change.”
Azarenka, who is No 48 in the world rankings, has been working for the last week with Fissette, who used to coach Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep. “It’s been fun,” she said. “I feel like our personalities connect, so that’s really important for me.”
The Belarusian needed little more than an hour to dispose of Kerber. It was Azarenka’s 11th successive victory here after she won the title on her previous two visits in 2012 and 2013. “I felt like I started with the right attitude and the right game plan, especially in the first set,” Azarenka said. “I really executed it well.”
Venus Williams, who has already won the title in Auckland this year and reached her first Grand Slam final since 2010, came from behind to beat Australia’s Casey Dellacqua 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in her opening match. The former Wimbledon champion took time to warm up in the chilly conditions before easing to a victory that earns a meeting today with the Czech Republic’s Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
Halep, who won the first big title of her career here last year, has pulled out of this week’s tournament because of injury. The world No 3 said that she injured a rib in preparation for last week’s event in Dubai. She won the title there despite not feeling 100 per cent and said her rib was now giving her more pain than before.
“I maybe need 10 days to recover,” she said. “I just have to take care of my body and to look forward to the next tournaments, so I just want to take positive things from last week. It’s the first time I’ve had this rib problem, but I still won the tournament.”
Along the coast in Dubai, Roger Federer had little trouble winning his first match since losing to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open. Federer beat Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny for the 16th time in a row, winning 6-3, 6-1. Britain’s Andy Murray and James Ward play their first matches in Dubai today against Gilles Muller and Feliciano Lopez respectively.