Azarenka squeaks past Barthel
Victoria Azarenka improved her unbeaten record this year to 18-0 after battling past Germany's Mona Barthel 6-4 6-7(4) 7-6(6) in the second round of the Indian Wells WTA tournament.
Top seed Azarenka squandered a 5-1 lead in the second set and then came from 1-4 and 3-5 down in the third before sealing a tight victory 8-6 in the tiebreak when her opponent hit a backhand long.
The Belarusian, who clinched her first Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open in January, double-faulted 12 times in an error-strewn encounter and celebrated in subdued fashion when the match ended after three hours on the stadium court.
"It was survival, but it's a good feeling also to come through after a match like this with a win," a relieved Azarenka said. "I could have been already beating myself up somewhere in my house after losing.
"But I'm here and I got through, and that's a good sign ... to win when you're not playing your best, it's more joyful.
"I won this match mentally more than physically or tactically or whatever. That was really what brought me a win today, my fighting spirit, till the last moment."
Barthel, who had lost to the Belarusian in their two previous meetings this year, was delighted with her gutsy display at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
"I stayed really calm ... but she's ranked number one and she really kept fighting for every point," said the 37th-ranked German, who won her first WTA title in Hobart in January. "She deserved to win in the end but of course it was really close."
Asked whether she had changed her strategy after trailing 1-5 in the second set, Barthel replied: "I was just trying to continue to play like that because I knew it was close.
"I lost some games where I had some game points, so I just was trying to fight, just trying to continue. I have nothing to lose against the world number one so I can just play my game. I'm happy I could turn the second set around."
Barthel, who twice served for the match in the third set before Azarenka took control, frequently troubled the world number one with her rasping groundstrokes and clever changes of pace.
"I think she played unbelievable tennis, the best of our previous matches," Azarenka said of the 21-year-old. "I have to give her a lot of credit for making me also not play well.
"She really stepped it up and showed some incredible strokes and serves so all the credit to her. Mona was really motivated to beat me today."
Earlier former champion Jelena Jankovic was bundled out of the tournament, losing 6-4 6-3 to American wildcard Jamie Hampton, while 13th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was ousted 6-4 6-4 by American Vania King.
The 12th-seeded Serb, who had reached the semi-finals in her last two tournaments, struggled to find a rhythm as she lost serve three times in the opening set and twice in the second.
Hampton, who made her debut in the top 100 of the rankings last week, sealed victory in just under 90 minutes when a Jankovic forehand sailed wide on the stadium court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
"It was a bad day of tennis for me," said Jankovic, champion in 2010. "I just did not feel the ball. My legs felt so heavy on the court, so I was moving very badly out there.
"Hampton played solid. She was playing very well. I was really a shadow of myself. I guess it's one of those days where you just come on the court and the legs don't go, the reactions are not there."
Jankovic had reached the last four in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur in her previous two events but felt her journey from Malaysia to the United States earlier this week had taken its toll.
"I was in good form in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, but maybe just had not much time to get over (to the US), get over the jet lag and feel fresh before this tournament," the former world number one said.
"Maybe that's something maybe to do with it, but obviously there's no excuse. I had to go out and perform much better than I did today, but it didn't happen for me."
Playing against the 99th-ranked Hampton for the first time, Jankovic was broken in the second, sixth and 10th games of the match to lose the opening set in 42 minutes.
Hampton, who upset 38th-ranked Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the opening round at Indian Wells, surged into a 5-1 lead in the second set before fending off a late Jankovic fightback.
The Serb broke the American in the seventh game, held serve in the eighth and then saved two match points in the ninth before her final forehand error.