When the 2018 season bounced in, Victoria Azarenka was still wrapped up in custody issues for her son, Leo, and legally wasn’t supposed to leave the state of California or the country. She applied for wild cards at the Auckland and Australian Open but had to dismiss them since the legal issues weren’t resolved yet. It wasn’t long before the court and legal battles were behind her and she took her place on the tennis court. The next tournament up was Indian Wells, where she was given a wild card to the main draw and was available to play, after months of being inactive on tour.
But there are many ways that Victoria Azarenka might be the one to watch when the new season rolls around. First of all, she has a heavy tennis resume that younger players don’t have. She has earned 20 WTA singles, 6 WTA doubles and 3 mixed doubles titles. She has 2 mixed Grand Slam titles: One at the 2007 US Open with Max Mirnyi and another at the 2008 French Open with Bob Bryan. She played at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, earning a Bronze medal for singles and a Gold medal in mixed doubles with Mirnyl, something that she never thought would be accomplished. She had explained to the media back then that, “It has been a dream come true for me to achieve gold because I think every athlete in the world is dreaming about this prize to get. You don’t get so many chances”.
Despite being absent from the tour for awhile, her return to Indian Wells was successful as she defeated players ranked higher than herself in the following weeks–Aga Radwanska, Madison Keys, Anastasija Sevastova, Kristina Mladenovic, Carla Suarez Navarro, and Daria Kasatkina. Azarenka’s biggest conquest happened when she defeated Australia’s Ashleigh Barty at the Pan Pacific Open at Tokyo. The Belorussian had blasted a kick serve into the body of Barty, jamming her and winning the match. When the court interviewer talked of her strategy and kick serve, Azarenka simply gave her dimpled smile saying “That makes me feel a little old, but I’m happy to be here…Obviously it’s been a while since I’ve played. I’m just trying to look day by day and see what happens. But I’m definitely enjoying my time on court here.”
The Belorussian has the capacity also to go deep in tournaments, another thing that can make her a threat to her opponents. This year she made it to two quarterfinals, one semifinal against Sloane Stephens–and she reached the final at Wimbledon, playing mixed doubles with Jamie Murray. In the Stephens match, Azarenka was ranked #186 and had won the first set causing embarrassment to the 2017 US Open champ. But she couldn’t hold her focus or consistency and let the match slip through her racquet with Stephens outplaying her. But being in the semifinals alone raised Azarenka’s rankings to being in the top 100, regardless of her losing the match.
Another item that could make Azarenka a player to watch in the 2019 season is her determination and those aggressive baseline blasts. She has a strong two-handed backhand that can sting any player of any caliber and when she’s in her zone, she’ll re-adjust her headband and pause, creating uncertainty in her opponents’ mind as to where her serve will zoom to next. Stephens had felt the heat on her game and confessed saying, “I am really pleased with the way I fought back after the first set.” Stephens pulled it out but knows well that it could have went another way and that playing opposite Azarenka can be a vicious fight till the end and if you win, it won’t be easy.
Victoria Azarenka may be quickly approaching 30, but she still has what it takes to possibly squeeze another title to her name in this 2019 season on the horizon. It is in hopes for her, the fans, and tennis community that those legal issues are gone for good and her time on tour will be a continuous and successful one.