LONDON: Former world number one Victoria Azarenka fought back to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon with a gritty 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over British wild card Heather Watson on Friday.
Competing in her first Grand Slam since taking a year off to have her first child in December, Azarenka is bidding to become the first mother to win Wimbledon in 37 years.
In just her second tournament following son Leo’s birth, the 27-year-old Belarusian had to dig deep to beat battling home favourite Watson on Centre Court.
Watson, the world number 102, made a fast start as she looked to make the fourth round for the first time.
But after a sloppy first set from Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion stepped on the gas to keep alive her attempt to emulate Evonne Goolagong, who was the last Wimbledon mum to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in 1980.
Only Goolagong, Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters have won a Grand Slam singles title after having a child.
“The whole match I was a little bit on the back foot. The second set I started to step in a little bit more,” Azarenka said.
“I still feel that I should clean up my game a little bit but I’m very happy that I stayed tough in the important moments and took my opportunities because the third set was a little bit up and down.
“I really played well in the important moments. I really stepped up.
“Definitely these are the matches that you’re looking for, trying to find a way when not everything goes great so I was very happy that I was able to stay tough and find other ways to win.”
Azarenka, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2011 and 2012, will play world number two Simona Halep or China’s Peng Shuai on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals.