Australian Open: Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki set up showdown

    Story highlights

    • Victoria Azarenka crushes Sloane Stephens in Melbourne
    • Azarenka now faces Caroline Wozniacki, who topped another young American
    • Stan Wawrinka begins his title defense with a straight-sets win
    • Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams also ease into the second round

    (CNN)She isn't forgotten but it's safe to say that Victoria Azarenka hasn't been in tennis' spotlight in the last year.

    Azarenka only played 15 matches in 2014 after last year's Australian Open thanks to injuries to both feet and a right knee. And unsurprisingly, her ranking has tumbled from No. 2 to outside the top 40.
      Twice a champion in Melbourne, the 25-year-old entered her first-round encounter against Sloane Stephens unseeded.
      Stephens has also seen better days, including in 2013 when the pair met not in the first round but in the semifinals at the year's opening major.
      It was perhaps the most enticing first-round tussle of the tournament but Azarenka ensured the hype bettered the actual match as she eased past the American -- whose tag of next-big-thing in women's tennis isn't yet materializing -- 6-3 6-2 in 75 minutes.
      Azarenka won't be in the shadows much longer if she can replicate Tuesday's performance.
      "From the beginning I started to be pretty focused and just maintained that intensity," Azarenka told reporters. "So that was a good opportunity to just really at the beginning take my chances because she's the kind of player that likes to take her chances.
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      "There is a lot to build from here."
      Indeed Azarenka can take heart from her display but she knows she won't have much time to dwell on it, since her second-round foe is longtime pal and U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane upended another young American, Taylor Townsend, 7-6 (7-2) 6-2.
      "Being an unseeded player, it's not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early round," said Azarenka. "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 some of 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."
      Besides being former No. 1 players, Azarenka and Wozniacki share another thing in common -- going through high-profile splits last year. Whereas Wozniacki and golfer Rory McIlroy broke up, Azarenka and artist Redfoo went their separate ways.
      Azarenka trails Wozniacki 4-3 in their head-to-heads, although they've only played one full match since 2010, a victory for the Belorussian in Cincinnati in 2013.
      "It's going to be tough," Wozniacki said. "She's won here before. Not the easiest on paper.
      "But at the same time I'm just going to focus on myself, my own game. Honestly 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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      Women's top-seed Serena Williams began with a 6-0 6-4 win over Belgium's Alison van Uytvanck -- escaping a 0-30 hole on serve at 4-4 in the second set -- and reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova eliminated Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp 6-1 6-4.
      Kvitova was relieved, since she fell to an outsider in the first round last year.
      "I'm glad that I did better than last year," Kvitova told reporters. "Of course, I mean, the nerves were there.
      "During all match, I was still feeling the tightness and the legs were suddenly so heavy and I couldn't really move. It was difficult, but I'm glad I did it. That's important."
      Wawrinka, Djokovic move on
      On paper, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and defending champion Stan Wawrinka are due to meet in the semifinals, and both began with three-set wins.
      Wawrinka, who stunned Djokovic last year on the way to opening his grand slam account, routed Turkey's Marsel Ilhan 6-1 6-4 6-2 while Djokovic defeated Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene -- a runner-up to Wawrinka in Chennai this month -- 6-3 6-2 6-4 after a slow start.
      "I was happy to be back on the court," Wawrinka told reporters. "I can feel that I have a lot of support here, and it's always nice to come back like that and to feel the crowd behind you.
      "For sure it's great, but it's still the beginning of the tournament. First round. It's just one match, now I need to be ready for the next one."
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      U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori, meanwhile, downed 2013 quarterfinalist Nicolas Almagro of Spain 6-4 7-6 (1) 6-2.
      Almagro, whose ranking has plummeted from the top 15 because of foot and shoulder injuries, hit 50 unforced errors.
      Home fans had plenty of reason to cheer Monday after the likes of Thanasi Kokkinakis, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic and Jarmila Gajdosova won, and Tuesday brought more success.
      Australia's top-ranked player, Samantha Stosur -- who has struggled at the Australian Open -- beat Romania's Monica Niculescu 6-4 6-1, with Lleyton Hewitt getting the better of China's Zhang Ze 6-3 1-6 6-0 6-4.
      Hewitt, 33, set a tournament record when he stepped on court, making his 19th straight appearance. He continues to play tennis in the aftermath of several serious injuries.