Anxious Azarenka suffers yet another blow

Two-time grand slam winner Victoria Azarenka has suffered another of a seemingly endless sequence of injuries, as she was forced to withdraw from the Birmingham grass court Open.

The injuries have already contributed to a two-year drought of titles, the loss of the No.1 ranking in 2013, and a fall from the top ten last year.

This latest setback further emphasises the extent of the threat to her career.

Azarenka’s departure after only one match of this high quality warm-up event weakens her chances at Wimbledon, the grass court grand slam, which starts the week after next.

Once again her problem is a left foot injury.

“It’s very disappointing for me to make this decision but I tried to practise and it just doesn’t feel one hundred per cent,” Azarenka said through a prepared statement.

“I don’t think it is the right time for me to take a risk right now, especially right before Wimbledon, and I need to make sure I have the best preparation possible.”

Azarenka added that she hoped to return here when fully fit.

However, it was evident on Tuesday after a far from convincing victory over Varvara Lepchenko, the sixth best American, that she became tense while answering questions about her future, and perhaps significant that she declined to talk about her fitness on Wednesday.

Even with 11 days in which to recover and prepare, it is now hard to see her doing well at Wimbledon.

At the age of only 25, however, there may still be time to find a solution to her ailments.

Earlier, Ana Ivanovic, who won the first grass court title of her career here last year, relinquished it at the first hurdle this year when she lost to qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito.

The world No.7 from Serbia gained her highest ranking for more than six years after a great French Open earlier this month, but was beaten 6-4 3-6 7-6 (8-6).

Ivanovic even had a chance to serve for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but saw her opponent play a superb game to break back.

It was all the more surprising because Ivanovic appeared to have worked her way out of trouble, after the flat-hitting and ambitious 22-year-old had broken serve early and clung on to the advantage well.

After taking five games in a row from 3-3 in the second set with some forceful baseline blows, the champion appeared to be motoring to victory, but was surprised by the strength of resistance when she attempted to close it out at 5-4.

“I stayed calm, definitely,” said de Brito.

“I held my nerve. That’s one of the things I’ve been doing really well, trying to keep it together and not get too upset.”

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