At least something came easily to Victoria Azarenka Tuesday. She won her opening match at the U.S. Open in two sets, getting out of the heat quickly and putting minimal strain on a body that's taken a beating over the last two seasons.
It wasn't so long ago that Azarenka looked to be Serena Williams' primary challenger for Grand Slam titles and she lost the 2012 and 2013 Open finals to Williams. Azarenka is a big and powerful player with speed and court savvy that made her a championship player. She has won two Australian Open titles.
Then over the last two seasons, injuries have taken a heavy toll on the 23-year-old from Belarus. In 2012, she reached No. 1 in the world rankings, but foot, shoulder and leg injuries slowed her championship pace to a crawl. Tuesday's 6-1, 6-2 victory over Lucie Hradecka on the Armstrong Stadium court was a satisfying opener for the player now ranked No. 20.
Hradecka of the Czech Republic is ranked No. 56.
"I had an opponent who is a little unpredictable," said Azarenka, who advances to face Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. "She doesn't give that much rhythm. For me, it was real important to stay in moment and try to put a lot of pressure, not to let her play her game."
With the pressure of constantly being asked about her physical condition and state of game, Azarenka often bristles. Tuesday, she answered the inevitable questions with a sense of calm. "I actually take it day by day, not even match by match," she said. "It can sound cheesy and stuff, but that's the best possible way for me right now."
Then she became, well, surreal. "I kind of put myself in this mind-set where time doesn't really exist that much," she said. "There is no past or future. I just try to stay in the present and find the way to enjoy that and improve in that particular moment."
And her moments in New York are invigorating.
"I couldn't wait to get out there and play my match," Azarenka said. "New York is always going to be a very special place for me regarding the history that I had in the past. I just feel that it's such an exciting stage."
Caroline Wozniacki would agree. Wozniacki, the No. 4 seed, won her opening match over wild-card entry Jamie Loeb, the NCAA champion, 6-1, 6-2, on Ashe. And No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova routed Laura Siegemund, 6-1, 6-1, late Tuesday night at Ashe.
Wozniacki has played her share of matches on Ashe, including the final she lost to Williams last year. She likes the changes now that the roof structure is up. "It feels a little different, but I have always loved Ashe," Wozniacki said. "I think it's awesome that the roof is going to happen . . . and I think it's going to be amazing."
Other players have cited the added benefits of a decrease in swirly winds and an increase in shade imparted by the roof structure.
Wozniacki enjoys the sound. "I like the sound of the ball when you hit in there," she said. "There's just nothing like playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's truly amazing."