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Ruffled Azarenka scores Tokyo win

"It was definitely a little tougher than it should have been. But a win is a win, so I'm happy." - Victoria Azarenka (above).


FORMER world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka fought the gremlins to beat Japan's Kurumi Nara 6-4, 7-5 and reach the last 16 of the Pan Pacific Open on Tuesday.

The Belarusian, who has tumbled down the rankings following a messy custody battle over baby Leo, ironed out the glitches just in time, with Nara threatening to force a deciding set in Tokyo.

Currently ranked 63rd and contesting the tournament as a wildcard, Azarenka smashed her racquet on the court in fury at her wastefulness before converting her fourth match point with a thumping cross-court backhand after an hour and 52 minutes.

"It was definitely a little tougher than it should have been," she said.

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"I had so many opportunities to close the match earlier but she's a great fighter," added the former Australian Open champion, who blew a kiss to Leo and promised to bring him to Tokyo next year.

"But a win is a win, so I'm happy."

Earlier, Croatia's Donna Vekic took advantage of a litany of errors from American Sloane Stephens, the tournament's fifth seed, to topple last year's US Open champion 6-4, 6-4.

Johanna Konta showed glimpses of the form that made her a top-five player last year by crushing Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski 6-2, 6-0.

The Briton reached a career-high fourth in the world last year when she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals, but has since slipped to 43rd in the rankings after a wretched run of form.

"It was a tough match, the scoreline didn't show the quality of it," insisted Konta, although she was fooling nobody after an embarrassingly lopsided contest.

"She definitely played really well in parts and I had to really raise my level to come through that."

Australia's Ashleigh Barty ousted American Coco Vandeweghe, who partnered her to the US Open doubles title earlier this month, the seventh seed coming through 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Eighth seed Barbora Strycova negotiated a potentially tricky opener against Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas with a solid 6-4, 6-4 victory, sealed with a fifth ace belted down the centre line.

Elsewhere, American Alison Riske upset fellow qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-4, 6-4 to reach the last 16 of a tournament whose list of former champions includes tennis greats Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Kimiko Date and Martina Hingis. AFP

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