but was unable to stop the American from taking the set after 50 minutes of play.
More aggressive baseline play from Azarenka combined with several costly errors from Williams sent Azarenka up a double break 5-1.
Serving for the set, Azarenka survived a four deuce game to hold serve as Williams netted a crosscourt backhand return to level the match at one set all after one hour and 27 minutes of play.
The players exchanged breaks of serves to start the final set before each holding serve to reach two games all.
Serving at two games all, Williams committed two groundstroke errors to face breakpoint at 30-40.
Azarenka then broke serve to lead 3-2 after striking a crosscourt backhand lob winner.
However serving ahead 40-0, Azarenka double-faulted then netted a down the line backhand to face breakpoint.
Williams broke serve to level the set at three games all after striking a crosscourt forehand volley winner.
Serving big, Williams raced to a 40-15 lead in the following game before striking a crosscourt backhand winner to lead 4-3.
Serving down 3-4, Azarenka struck consecutive down the line forehand winners to lead 30-0.
However the same shot which had been successful until this point, abandoned Azarenka as she committed two down the line forehand errors as well as two crosscourt forehand errors to drop serve and trail 3-5.
With Williams serving in the following game at 15 all, Azarenka netted three consecutive crosscourt forehands to end the match.
Then with a wave to the late night crowd and one of her signature twirls, Williams was into the Auckland round two.
Williams, currently ranked number 39 following an injury which ended her 2018 season after the US Open in September, would most likely need to win the Auckland title for a chance at a 32 or better ranking and a seed at this month’s Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia.
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