NEW YORK – Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka romped into the US Open third round on Thursday with a largely tension-free straight sets victory over Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka, who has reached the final of the US Open on three previous occasions, was always in control as she sealed a 6-2, 6-3 win.

The clash between 26th seed Azarenka and Kostyuk had raised the possibility of a politically charged contest.

However the only hint of tension came at the end of the match, with Kostyuk offering a perfunctory touch of racquets with Azarenka instead of a handshake.

Last week, Azarenka was axed from an exhibition event on the eve of the US Open aimed at raising money for war-torn Ukraine.

Azarenka was due to have joined a star-studded field for the fundraiser, which was timed to coincide with Ukraine’s Independence Day celebrations.

Kostyuk however was one of a number of Ukraine players who spoke out about Azarenka’s participation.

Organisers subsequently jettisoned Azarenka with Kostyuk saying she would boycott the event if the veteran took part.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch attacks into Ukraine.

But there was no obvious evidence of bad blood during Thursday’s encounter held on Court 17 at the Billie Jean King Tennis Centre.

Azarenka quickly took control of the contest against Kostyuk, the 20-year-old world No. 65 from Kyiv, whose best result at a Grand Slam was reaching the fourth round of last year’s French Open.

Azarenka scored two early breaks to ease through the first set, and then broke Kostyuk twice in the opening four games of the second set to take a 4-0 lead before closing out the win.

Azarenka will face either Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa or Croatia’s Petra Martic in the third round. AFP

Last modified: September 2, 2022