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January 14, 2014

Azarenka, Wozniacki advance at blistering Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka began her bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson on Tuesday as the start of a predicted heat wave arrived at Melbourne Park.

Conscious of the time and the temperature, former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and No. 11 Simona Halep raced to straight-set wins in their first-round matches on the other show courts.

Second-ranked Azarenka had a tougher time on Rod Laver Arena against Larsson, who twice had chances to serve for the first set but lost it in a tiebreaker.

“Yeah it was a tough set first. The match was going to be tricky ... the weather was not helping,” Azarenka said. “I had to play a little bit and find my rhythm.”

Both players had trouble holding serve, with a combined six service breaks in 66 minutes leading into the tiebreaker. No. 91-ranked Larsson was taking big cuts with her ground strokes and forcing Azarenka to defend. But the two-time defending champion started getting on top in the second set and didn’t drop serve again.

Both players draped bags of ice over their necks and shoulders and sat under covered seats in the changeovers. They retreated into the shade at the back of the courts between points.

Temperatures hit 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) early on the second afternoon of the tournament and was expected to rise. A hot, gusty breeze swirled across the venue. Spectators on outside courts covered their heads and shoulders with damp towels to cool off.

No. 13 John Isner, the only seeded American man in the draw, retired after losing the first two sets 6-2, 7-6 (6) against Martin Klizan. He called for the trainer after the tiebreaker, tapped his racket on the ground three times while deliberating whether to go back out, and only played on for a few minutes in the third set. Tournament officials said he retired with a foot injury — Isner won the title last weekend at Auckland, where he was playing with an injured right ankle.

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