Azarenka groans to a halt in Brisbane while Murray tries to shoulder on in Perth

Erratic Belarusian falls despite crowd support meaning she will not be seeded at the Australian Open.

Victoria Azarenka dropped two match points in the game against Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane. Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images
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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA // The decibel readings were not needed for Victoria Azarenka yesterday as the groans from the crowd at the Brisbane International almost drowned out her infamous shrieks.

Still struggling to get back to her best, the former world No 1 was beaten 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the first round by the Czech Karolina Pliskova.

The crowd at the Pat Rafter Arena, aware of the injuries and personal problems the Belarussian has endured during the past year, urged her on, but their vocal backing was not enough.

Azarenka was the architect of her own defeat. She failed to convert two match points in the second set and made nine double faults and 44 unforced errors in a match that lasted three hours and 15 minutes.

At 25, time is still on Azarenka’s side, and there were enough positive signs to show she can get back towards the top, but the road to a full recovery looks likely to be a slow one.

A year ago, Azarenka arrived in Brisbane hoping to successfully defend the Australian Open title she won in 2012 and 2013 but bowed out in the quarter-finals.

She suffered a foot injury that led to her missing most of the first six months of the year and then had a knee problem.

Azarenka finally abandoned the season in September after playing just 24 matches without winning a title.

She plummeted down the rankings and split up with her boyfriend Stefan Gordy, better known as Redfoo, one half of LMFAO, the US pop duo behind the hit single, I’m Sexy and I Know It.

On her return, it seemed fitting that Azarenka began her season at the venue where she played her last tour final.

Azarenka started the Brisbane International ranked 42nd in the world but not without hope. She is healthy again, physically and emotionally, and determined to get back to where she was.

Monday’s match was her first since September and Pliskova was a difficult and dangerous first-round opponent, ranked 23rd in the world after winning two WTA titles last year.

Azarenka jumped to a 5-1 lead in the opening set before the first signs of trouble arrived.

Pliskova reeled off the next three games, and although Azarenka took the set, she squandered her chances in the second before running out of energy in the decider.

“It was definitely one of the biggest wins of my career, and I’m looking forward to the second round of Brisbane,” Pliskova said, also paying tribute to a supportive Pat Rafter Arena crowd.

Both players went toe-to-toe in some cracking ground-stroke rallies, with neither keen to surrender their position on top of the baseline.

Azarenka’s defeat means she will not be seeded at the Australian Open.

Fourth-seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova had earlier crashed out to American Madison Keys 7-5, 6-2, joining fellow seeds Andrea Petkovic and Jelena Jankovic as first-round losers.

At the Hopman Cup in Perth, Andy Murray said he was still troubled by a lingering shoulder problem after beating Benoit Paire 6-2, 7-5 as Great Britain won 2-1 over defending champions France.

“It is still quite sore,” Murray said. “I do not feel it on my groundstrokes as much, but I feel it when I am serving.”

Earlier, the United States opened their account with a 3-0 victory over Italy.

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