LONDON (AP) — Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka entered Wimbledon without a win in five months and a big question mark over her form, having played only twice since losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
The eighth-seeded Azarenka responded in style on Monday, defeating former semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 7-5 to reach the second round.
"I was super happy to get a win," said Azarenka, a two-time semifinalist at the All England Club.
It was a much better outcome than last year on the same Court One, where she badly twisted her right knee in the first round and eventually was forced out of the tournament.
When Lucic-Baroni sent a final forehand long, Azarenka pumped her fists and raised a finger before congratulating her opponent and blowing kisses to the crowd
Before making her return at Eastbourne following a long layoff with a left foot injury, Azarenka had played her last match on tour at Indian Wells, Californina, in March, losing in straight sets.
She also lost in the first round at the Wimbledon warm-up event last week, but at least she got the opportunity to tune-up for the grass-court Slam.
"Well, I'm just very happy to be able to play. This is what I love to do. The best feeling is to play pain-free," Azarenka said. "That's what's important for me. Getting the game together and the timing, it's all a long process."
Azarenka traveled frequently during her time off court, undergoing treatments in the United States and Europe. She said she struggled to cope with the uncertainties surrounding her comeback.
"The toughest part about the time off and my rehab in particular was that I didn't know when I was going to be able to go on the court because it was mostly a day-to-day progress," she said.
The 24-year-old Azarenka fought hard to get past the 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist, winning on her fifth match.
She sometimes lost her focus and temper, throwing her racket on the ground. She struggled with her serve and had eight double faults but made the most of her opponent's 29 unforced errors.