Victoria Azarenka, a former finalist at Eastbourne, returned to Devonshire Park only to bow out in just under three hours 4-6 6-3 7-5 to Camila Giorgi.
The former #1 and two-time Grand Slam winner was on court involved in a baseline battle in just her fourth tournament of the season, following a foot injury that ruled her out of Roland Garros, but came off Centre Court with her pride hit for six.
The Belarussian ace said about opting to tune up for Wimbledon: “I’m here in Eastbourne to try to test myself in competition, I’ve been tested in practice, but competition is a very different thing.
Although Azarenka ran away with the opening set, the world #8 was soon pegged back with a third set to decide matters.
World #42 Giorgi, who reached the 4th Round at 2013 Wimbledon, romped into a 5-3 lead and looked to be on the verge of causing an upset.
Azarenka, whose power game suits grass and having reached the semi-final stage at Wimbledon in both 2011 and 2012 been long-tipped as a future champion at SW19, won the next eight points to leave the Centre Court crowd thrilled at the prospect of an exciting finale.
But no one could have predicted that Azarenka would be involved in an 18 minute service game that she would lose, involving nine deuces and managing to save two break points. It was third time lucky for the erratic Italian Giorgi who seemed to have worn out her opponent with this game in the sun.
And Giorgi wrapped up the match on her serve, cheered on by the appreciative crowd who were treated to top quality tennis over the 169 minute thriller.
Azarenka is down and out of Eastbourne but expected to bounce back to winning ways at SW19. Her misfortune with injuries resulted in withdrawing from 2013 Wimbledon following a knee injury that she picked up in the 1st Round against Portugal’s Maria Joao Koehler of Portugal, leading to her eventual withdrawal from The Championships.
Azarenka, the ex-Australian Open champion in both 2012 and 2013, raced to the final at Devonshire Park in 2011 but slipped up to Russian Ekaterina Makarova. But against Giorgi, the world #42, there was no repeat performance – and Eastbourne tends to throw up some unusual results before the grass court Grand Slam.
Giorgi said, “Even though I was making some mistakes, all the match I was consistent. Sometimes you make some mistakes, but it’s not just about the serve.”