Azarenka out, but keeping the faith

 - Dan Imhoff

Gritty Czech Katerina Siniakova outlasts former world No.1 in two tight sets on the new Court 18.

The Roland-Garros comeback is over at the first outing but a prudent Victoria Azarenka knows better than to compare her journey with others. That would only compound frustrations of opportunities missed.

To the outsider, a 7-5 7-5 opening-round defeat to tricky Czech Katerina Siniakova at Roland-Garros on Tuesday could have been deemed one such opportunity.

For a reflective Azarenka, this was not the case. On a lengthy route back, this was not about a short-term gain.

For a former world No.1 – having missed much of the past two years due to injuries, the birth of her son Leo and a subsequent custody dispute – patience and perseverance have become more than buzz words used to gauge progress in tennis terms.

Finally able to return to competition in March, there have been enough positives to suggest the Belarusian could chart a successful rise back to the sport she once dominated.

“I know there is going to be up and downs in my game, and I have to work through them,” Azarenka said.

“I did work through them. I just didn't find the right choices today, and I have to just keep going. It's not going to be an easy way for me. So I need to get back and to practice, and I need to figure some things out why I'm not doing the right things that I do in the practice during the matches.”

This was just her second major since she fell in the opening round two years ago, after a brief return to Wimbledon last season.

It was in Miami, in just her second tournament back this season, where the 28-year-old was able to transfer practice to the match court with a semi-final run.

“I think the personal level and personal expectations for me are always high. And coming in here I was trying to be a little bit more realistic and take it one day at a time,” Azarenka said.

“I had some good practice days finally after Rome, but, you know, it didn't come out on the court today. Even though I'm doing good things in practice, I am not able to transfer it to the match.”

Azarenka left no doubt of her hunger to return to the winning fray and she displayed her fair share of brilliance from the baseline against Siniakova, but having broken three times in the second set, each time she was unable to consolidate. “I think that today I just didn't use the opportunities that I created with my serve, and the first shot was not as aggressive and giving me that kind of feeling going forward,” she said.

Siniakova carried momentum from a semi-final run in Nuremberg only days ago to book a second-round clash with Jelena Ostapenko’s conqueror Kateryna Kozlova.

To some, it was a further opportunity in an opening draw missed for Azarenka.

Yet she is not one to expect shortcuts. Her resolve to return to the top of the sport is stronger than ever. “No doubt about it,” she offered immediately. “Maybe not today, but no doubt about it.”

Menwhile, No.8 seed Petra Kvitova narrowly avoided the same fate as Azarenka, surviving a torrid three-set affair with Veronica Cepede Royg on Chatrier.

Kvitova, a winner in Prague and Madrid coming in, required two hours and seven minutes to subdue to Paraguayan - who reached the fourth round at Roland-Garros last year - by a scoreline of 3-6 6-1 7-5.

Next up for Kvitova is Lara Arruabarrena of Spain.