Injured Keys retires, new Mom Azarenka advances at Miami Open

Victoria Azarenka hits a backhand against Madison Keys during Azarenka’s 7-6 (7-5), 2-0 victory when Keys retired with an injury on Thursday night at the Miami Open.
Victoria Azarenka hits a backhand against Madison Keys during Azarenka’s 7-6 (7-5), 2-0 victory when Keys retired with an injury on Thursday night at the Miami Open. Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka, playing her first Miami Open as a mother, battled through a tough opening set against 15th-ranked American Madison Keys on a chilly Thursday night, but their second-round match ended abruptly when Keys retired with a left thigh injury.

Azarenka won 7-6 (7-5), 2-0, calling it “the worst way to win a match”. The former world No. 1, whose ranking dropped to 186 during her maternity leave, wore her son Leo’s name on her sneakers.

She said motherhood has given her new perspective on tennis and life.

“I think the harmony and the balance within is definitely different, because your perspective definitely changes on what's important, because tennis, in the end of the day, is a job,” she said. You do this job for a certain period of time. And when you're a parent, this is for the rest of your life.”

In an earlier match, Simona Halep, the current No. 1, rallied from a set down to beat 98th-ranked Oceane Dodin of France 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and will face Agnieszka Radwanska.

“I played bad, but, you know, you have these days, and when you don't give up, is the most important thing,” Halep said. “I think that's why I won today, because I didn't give up. I didn't play well, but, you know, in the end, if you win it, you take only the positives.”

Halep reached her third Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in January but is still awaiting her first trophy. She reached the Miami Open semifinals in 2015.

She said she has learned to be more patient and that has resulted in more three-set victories.

“Before maybe previous years I couldn't win the matches in the third set, so I'm really happy that I changed this to myself, and I feel stronger,” she said. “So, when I go to the third set, I don't panic. I'm relaxed and I'm just fighting till the end, and I'm sure that I have a big chance to win the match, so I just go for it.”

Also, on Thursday, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany rolled past Sweden's Johanna Larsson 6-2 6-2, and Czech Karolina Pliskova beat Russia's Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 7-5.

Kerber is 19-4 this year and has reached at least the quarterfinals of all five tournaments she's played after struggling through a difficult 2017 season. In 2016, she won the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. She was eager to win on Thursday after a humbling 6-0, 6-2 loss to Daria Kasatkina at Indian Wells, Calif., last week.

“After Indian Wells, it was really important to come here and to win the first match,” Kerber said. “The first matches are always tough, especially because the conditions are completely different than in Indian Wells. To be honest, I just forget about the last match in Indian Wells. I mean, it was not my day. Here the tournament starts from zero.”

She took the same approach to 2018 after a forgettable 2017.

“New Year's, that was I think the moment where I knew, okay, completely the 2017 is over and we start a new year,” Kerber said. “I think that was the moment. It was not on court. It was just outside. But that was the moment that 2017 is over and a completely new year starts. I felt right away very good.”

In other matches, Leonardo Mayer of Argentina beat American Donald Young 3-6, 6-4, 6-2; American Sloane Stephens breezed past wild card Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-3; and American qualifier Allison Riske beat Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-1.