KEY, BISCAYNE FLORIDA – Two-time Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka easily advanced to the second round Wednesday, beating Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain 6-1, 6-3.
The 36th-ranked Azarenka, the 2009 and 2011 winner from Belarus, is playing in Miami for the first time since 2012.
Azarenka missed the 2013 tournament with a right ankle injury and sat out last year with a left foot injury.
“It’s been unfortunate the last couple of years for me, but I love this tournament,” said Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion.
“I’m just looking forward to build my momentum here again and try to play as many matches as possible.”
The left foot injury plagued Azarenka throughout last season, limiting her to nine tournaments.
This year, she reached the Doha final in February.
Azarenka took a 4-1 lead in the first set before Soler-Espinosa held serve in the fifth game.
In the second set, Azarenka initially trailed 3-1 before winning the next five games to end the match.
“I think it was a pretty good first set,” Azarenka said. “Second set, there were a bit too many mistakes in the beginning.”
Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic, who has had two shoulder surgeries the past five years, won her first WTA Tour-level match since the Memphis tournament in February 2010.
The 328th-ranked Vaidisova, who had a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2007, beat Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
“I think I just wanted to give it my all and have no regrets if I can,” Vaidisova said.
She added: “I’m trying to do everything as good as possible.”
The 45th-ranked Sloane Stephens posted a 6-1, 6-3 win over Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.
Stephens has returned to living in South Florida from Los Angeles. She is working again with coach Nick Saviano.
Wickmayer made 35 unforced errors, while Stephens had only 16. Stephens broke Wickmayer’s serve five times in the match.
“I thought I played really well,” Stephens said.
“Obviously, playing in South Florida is always great for me. Being home and having the home crowd is really nice.”
American Jack Sock, also making a comeback after having surgery in December to repair a right pelvic muscle, advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Go Soeda.
The 45th-ranked Sock also spent three weeks in February bedside at a hospital with 24-year-old brother Eric, who was near death suffering from Lemierre’s Syndrome.
“The biggest thing for me, in the back of the mind, to go out and play a pretty physical game,” Sock said.
“To be able to go out and know that I can play every point the way I need to.”
Sam Querrey of the U.S. beat Victor Estrella Burgos of Dominican Republic 6-4, 6-3.
Two American women also advanced to the second round. Christina McHale beat Romanian wild-card Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 6-4, and Alison Riske topped Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 6-4, 6-0.