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They first met as teenagers in the third round of the 2008 US Open. They both went on to become world No.1 and have played six Grand Slam finals between them

Wozniacki sets up Azarenka clash in Melbourne

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Originally published on 20/01/15

Victoria Azarenka will meet Caroline Wozniacki in the second round on Thursday after both won their first-round matches in straight sets. Azarenka defeated Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-2, while Wozniacki was too consistent for Taylor Townsend as the Dane ground out a 7-6(1) 6-2 victory.

“I've known her since juniors,” Wozniacki said of Azarenka. “We've known each other for over 10 years. We've competed for a very long time so we go way back. We've always been pretty close. There are times where you spend more time together, periods where you don't. She's a fun girl to be around. I'm glad to see her back.”

Seeded No.2 here last year, two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka has slipped to No.44 in the world rankings following a 2014 season plagued by injuries. The Belarusian has played just seven tournaments since last year’s Australian Open after struggling a series of foot and knee problems.

It was the third successive year that Azarenka has played Stephens in Melbourne. Two years ago she won their semi-final clash en route to a second Australian Open crown; last year they met in the fourth round. It was a high-profile first-round encounter, but in the end the result was the same as Azarenka eased to a straight sets victory in an hour and 15 minutes to set up an eighth career meeting with Wozniacki – the Dane has won four of their previous seven encounters. 

“It's just going to be a tough match for me,” said Azarenka of her second-round draw. “Being an unseeded player, it's not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early round. I just need to go through that. I accept the challenges.

“She was showing some great tennis in the end of last year. I know she's very dangerous. We always had tough matches. I would like to focus on myself, and what I can do to build my game, to prepare as best as I can, and just compete. That's my key word for this tournament: Compete.”

Wozniacki, Azarenka and home favourite Sam Stosur all advanced unscathed on Tuesday after an opening day which saw eight seeds tumble out of the draw. Fifth seed Ana Ivanovic was the highest-profile casualty as Angelique Kerber and Lucie Safarova both suffered early exits.

Unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2007 US Open, Azarenka believes such results reflect the strength in depth in the women’s game.

“If you play against a seed or unseeded player, it's going to be tough. The depth in women's game I think is really strong right now," she said. "You could see from the results from [on Monday] that it doesn't really matter. You got to be ready 100% every day no matter who you're facing.”

Wozniacki echoed Azarenka’s view: “I think the depth of the women's game has increased immensely," she said. "Just looking back five or six years ago, you knew that the first few rounds were going to be easy-ish, so you knew you could get yourself into the tournament. Now you even have tough first rounds.

“It’s going to be tough,” she added of having to face Azarenka. “She's won here before. It’s not the easiest on paper. But at the same time I'm just going to focus on myself, on my own game. Whether you have to beat her in the second round or fourth round, whatever, doesn't matter if you want to win the tournament.”

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They first met as teenagers in the third round of the 2008 US Open. They both went on to become world No.1 and have played six Grand Slam finals between them
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