When I dealt with the WTA’s scenario before Indian Wells, I stated that Azarenka’s absence was one of the most heartbreaking for tennis fans.
Indeed, the tournament ended up with Elena Vesnina winning it. Surely, a life-time achievement for the Russian, though it showed once again that, with the best players out for a variety of reasons, the field is open for a lot of players to perform well and to gain outstanding results.
Miami’s entry list was more or less the same as Indian Wells’. Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, and indeed Victoria Azarenka were all out of the tournament, either for injury, ban, or pregnancy.
Recently, Azarenka spoke in an exclusive interview at Tennis Channel, opening up about her comeback, and about other topics which I’d like to discuss.
First of all, the Belarusian declared that, if her body is already health and her baby is ready to travel the world, she’d be happy to come back this summer, during the US Open Series, in order to prepare to compete for the last Grand Slam of the season, the US Open. By that time, Azarenka won’t be having a ranking, since she played her last match on tour during Roland Garros last year. However, the WTA rules say that players who have been out for pregnancy can benefit from the Protected Ranking (PR), if they play their first match less than one year after the birth of their baby–Azarenka’s Leo was born in December. With the PR, players can enter up to eight tournaments within one year from their return date, using the ranking they held at the start of their absence. However, they can not be seeded, so that potential pop-corn first rounds are to come!
Azarenka, in the interview, made clear that people shouldn’t expect her to come back at a low level. She clearly stated that she want to be the best once again, and to continue to achieve her goals and her dreams. She’s working on her body health and on her serve, to become–as she said it–an even better player than before, i.e. the best on tour.
Her motivation, hence, appears to be high as the sky! And, honestly, it’s not hard to trust her. A player who used to be number one, multiple Slam champion, who was able to complete Sunshine Double last year, clearly doesn’t want to come back and struggle to reach the last stages of big tournaments. Therefore, when asked if we are going to see the same player that seemed unbeatable last year on hard court, she clearly answered no, as we’ll see a far better player.
The Belarusian stated that she doesn’t want to call it a comeback. It’s just the continuum of her career. She started to train about three weeks ago, and her main goal is body health–in order to be ready for the tour level, to gain a competitive athleticism, and to prevent future injures. At the age of 28, she definitely has enough time to fulfill a high number of achievement, and, I’d add, to gain what she deserved and that, due to inconsistency, she hasn’t achieved yet.
Indeed, Angelique Kerber, world #1, is 29. Serena, the best on tour, 2017 Australian Open champion, is 35. Elena Vesnina, Indian Wells champion, is 30. I’d definitely say that Azarenka’s age is not something to be worried about!
Azarenka’s fans–just like myself–have often had a hard time in following her. Her injuries, more than once in a while, forced her to stop going further in big tournaments, and one can feel that she could have definitely achieved far more during her career. However, when she’s on top, she displays a flawless game. Consistency, power, mental strength are only some of the factors that made her one of the strongest player the tour has ever met, and the best rival for Serena Williams. Matches between the two, i.e. Doha’s final in 2013, Cincinnati and US Open finals in the same year, became an epic.
While listening to the interview, one can’t but feel extremely happy for the player. She seems happy with what life booked for her, and thoroughly grateful. And her willingness to come back on tour seems very high. She is determined, and–an even more important thing–she is conscious about her potential, and her expectations are nothing but real. She knows well that her ambition are not an utopia. The difficult part, obviously, will be concretely turning them into reality.
As far as tennis is concerned, this summer is going to be thrilling!
Maria Sharapova will be back on court, competing, and, probably, Serena Williams too. Furthermore, a lot of players–such as Vesnina–are going to have high hopes, overwhelmed by their achievement, which can give them consistency and motivation.
A lot of players are going to fight to be the best, and each of them is going to have a real possibility.
It’s going to be a matter of forehand, backhand, serve, but, most of it, it’s going to be a battle of mental strength and belief. And, isn’t this the reason why we all love this sport?