Brisbane | Rodionova upsets Kenin, but Azarenka marches on

As the 1st-round of the WTA 500 Brisbane International was completed on Tuesday, two 2nd-round matches were played, which saw former champion Sofia Kenin upset by local wild-card Arina Rodionova and Victoria Azarenka advance.

I’m a little speechless now and a little tired. She’s obviously such a great player and her achievements are amazing, so I came out with no expectations. I just tried to enjoy it out here and I am really enjoying it.” Arina Rodionova

It was a set-back for the American in terms of her preparations for the Australian Open, with an upset 7-5, 7-6(7) loss to 113th-ranked Rodionova.

The 2020 Australian Open winner was constantly under pressure on her serve despite having chances in both sets against the 34-year-old Australian, who has never been ranked in the Top 100.

Rodionova, though, has been clocking up the miles, playing more than 100 matches across all levels and tallying an astounding 79 match-wins and 7 ITF titles.

Coming off an 8-month injury layoff, Rodionova saw her ranking go from outside the Top 300 to a career-high No 112, and she finished 2023 as the highest-ranked Australian woman.

Now Rodionova is seeking to become the oldest player in the history of the Hologic WTA Tour to make her debut in the Top 100.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here and just enjoy the moment because you never know how many more years I’ll be able to do that,” she said. “Again, having fun out there.”

Now Rodionova is seeking to become the oldest player in the history of the Hologic WTA Tour to make her debut in the Top 100.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here and just enjoy the moment because you never know how many more years I’ll be able to do that,” she said. “Again, having fun out there.”

Rodionova’s globetrotting 52-week effort was enough to earn her a main-draw wild-card into Brisbane, where she has torn through the field to advance to the Round of 16, beating Italy’s Martina Trevisan to earn her first Top 50 win since 2020.

With Australia’s new Billie Jean King Cup Captain Sam Stosur urging her on from the stands, Rodionova’s wry smile and sense of humour have stolen the show on court.

“I think that’s the reason why I’m having so much fun out there, because I’ve done the hard work,” Rodionova said. “I’ve played in the small cities, small tournaments where no one is watching. I think it’s a little bit like a reward for me just even being here.”

Kenin was seeded 14th in Brisbane, a key tune-up tournament for the Australian Open, which starts on Sunday 14 January in Melbourne.

Rodionova got a crucial break in the 11th game, and then held to love, clinching the first set with an ace.

Kenin dictated terms at the start of the second, and wasted a set point at 5-3, before giving Rodionova a break point with a wide forehand down the the line.

Three games later, Kenin fired a forehand wide when the court was wide open, and then sent another long as the set went into a tiebreak.

“I’m a little speechless now and a little tired,” Rodionova admitted afterwards. “She’s obviously such a great player and her achievements are amazing, so I came out with no expectations.

“I just tried to enjoy it out here and I am really enjoying it.”

Rodionova will face either Liudmila Samsonova or Mirra Andreeva for a spot in her first WTA quarterfinal since 2017 Nanchang.

“Obviously winning is a great bonus,” Rodionova said, “but, yeah, playing this level of tournament and being at home and being healthy enough — like last year, I couldn’t even play the week before Australian Open because my injury was still not great.”


8th-seeded Victoria Azarenka defeated Anna Kalinskaya in straight sets on Day 3 in Brisbane

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Two-time former champion Azarenka, the 8th seed from Belarus, beat Russian Anna Kalinskaya, 6-1 7-6(8) to advance to the Round of 16, where she awaits the winner of the match between France’s Clara Burel, and 12th-seeded Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine.

Fifteen years since she claimed the inaugural Brisbane International women’s title, and 8 years since she triumphed again in 2016, Azarenka is as competitive at Pat Rafter Arena as ever.

The 32-year-old claimed her win after 2 hours and 12 minutes, staving off a 2nd-set challenge from Kalinskaya, who had upset her in their only other prior match at WTA level at 2023 Charleston.

“I felt like we both played really well. She was going for it,” Azarenka said after their latest encounter. “I think [in the] first set, I was playing really well, I wasn’t letting her into the game and I felt like she picked up her game, started to go for it and be more aggressive.”

The 22nd-ranked Azarenka established early authority against Kalinskaya, taking a 2-0 lead and saving 2 break points as she won 5 straight games, but after she was treated for an injury, Kalinskaya became steadily more competitive, saving 6 set points before the Belarusian took the first set.

The second initially followed a similar pattern, Azarenka immediately breaking the Kalinskaya serve and maintaining her lead until the 10th game, when she surrendered a match point, then the first of the 6 break points she had faced, as she served for the match.

She had another chance to serve out the match, who broke for a 4th time but couldn’t consolidate, and the outcome was eventually determined by a tense tiebreak, in which a brave Kalinskaya saved 3 further match points.

Having finally secured victory when Kalinskaya netted a service return, Azarenka was pleased with the test.

“First matches [of the season] are never easy to close out,” she noted. “I’m actually glad that I was able to have that momentum shift … you can’t recreate [that challenge] in practice.

“[There are] definitely a few things to work on, but I’m pretty happy with a first win.”

Azarenka was equally delighted to glimpse her former doubles partner, Ash Barty, in the crowd at Brisbane and spoke fondly of the major-winning Australian.

“I feel like she has brought so much light to tennis in Australia, so much more excitement,” Azarenka smiled. “So I feel like we owe it to her to continue to improve tennis in Australia and put on a good show.”


Former Grand Slam champion Ash Barty has been watching the action at the 2024 Brisbane International at the Queensland Tennis Centre

© Chris Hyde/Getty Images



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