Azarenka holds off injured Hampton to advance
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus wipes the sweat from her face during her third round match against Jamie Hampton of the US at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Defending champion Victoria Azarenka struggled to hold off injured American Jamie Hampton 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 on Saturday before advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Hampton, who needed a medical timeout for a lower back problem before she served out the second set and winced in pain, frequently on the verge of tears, throughout the third, still managed to hit 41 winners to keep the top-ranked Azarenka under pressure.
Azarenka appeared frustrated at times, but overcame an early break and fended off triple break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before clinching the match in 2 hours, 9 minutes.
She didn't help herself with six double faults and 28 unforced errors, but was often pushed to the limit by a rival who was swinging hard at every opportunity.
"She played incredible, went for every single shot. I felt it was touching every single line," Azarenka said. "She took a medical timeout but she rips winners all over the place and I was like, 'Can I have a back problem?' I'm feeling great, but I'm missing every shot."
After wasting two set points on Azarenka's serve late in the second set, Hampton had to leave the court for nine minutes to have treatment on her back.
Azarenka practiced her backhands and serve while Hampton was in the locker room, but the break didn't help her immediately. Hampton returned and held in the next game and needed more treatment in the break at the end of the set.
Jamie Hampton of the US gets treatment during her third round match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Even with the pain of two herniated disks, the 23-year-old Hampton, from Auburn, Ala., went down swinging — making 47 unforced errors to go with the winners that caught Azarenka off guard and had her asking, loudly at one point, what she could do to counter them.
Sensing an upset, and stirred by the obvious pain, the crowd on Rod Laver Arena got right behind the No. 63-ranked Hampton, who had never gone past the second round at a major.
Azarenka had her share of supporters in the stands, too, including friend and musician RedFoo who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with "We Go Hard" across the front.
Azarenka's potential semifinal rival, Serena Williams, had the next match on Rod Laver Arena against Ayumi Morita of Japan. Williams is on a roll, having won the past two majors and warming up for the Australian Open with a title earlier in the month at the Brisbane International.