MELBOURNE, Australia – 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 needed a medical timeout for a lower back problem before she served out the second set. She winced in pain, frequently on the verge of tears, throughout the third, but still managed to hit 41 winners to keep the top-ranked Azarenka under pressure.
Azarenka 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 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.”
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.