Azarenka relishing future 'battle of mums' with Serena
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[June 20, 2017]
By Martyn Herman
(Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka cannot
wait to renew her rivalry with close friend Serena Williams in what
could shape up to become a future battle of the tennis mums.
For a change, Azarenka, who has four wins and 17 defeats against
Williams, is a step ahead of the American having given birth to son
Leo in December -- a day, she says, represented a "180 degree" turn
in her life.
While the former world number one and twice Australian Open champion
resumes her career this week in Mallorca, Williams's baby is due in
September with the American to return next year.
"I've been friends off the court with Serena for a long time and I'm
very happy for her," Azarenka told Reuters as she prepared for her
comeback on the Mallorcan grasscourts.
"First of all I was so happy when she said she was pregnant but when
I first heard I thought, 'Oh my God, I'll never have the chance to
play against her again.' I was a little sad.
"But it's incredible that she's coming back and I know that
hopefully we'll face each other more times."
Azarenka, 27, has always been one of the most ferocious competitors
on the women's circuit.
Tennis has been all-consuming -- a diet of practise, tournaments,
gym sessions and the all-too-regular rehabilitations from injury.
Since becoming a mum, however, there is a new Azarenka.
"Having Leo has changed my life 180 degrees," the Belarusian
explained. "I love every moment of being a mum. But now I have two
"When I'm on the court, the only reason I'm there is that I love the
game and I still have so much potential to improve. When I'm there I
give 100 percent every time.
"But after that I'm in a different mode. I switch off. That has
always been so hard in the past.
"I used to come back and watch tennis or talk about tennis, or check
tennis on the internet. Now with Leo, it's easy to forget it.
"Whenever I come back from practise I just want to spend time with
Leo, read books, swim in the pool, regular stuff. He is a good
napper too. When I'm practise he usually naps."
Azarenka, who is back on a protected ranking, believes the enforced
12-month break can help her become an even better player than before
and maybe emulate Kim Clijsters, who returned after starting a
family to win three of her four major titles.
"I'm managing my time better now," she said. "I get better quality
time now. When it comes to practise I used to get there and talk and
laugh, and waste some time.
[to top of second column]
Belarus' Victoria Azarenka hits a shot during her third round match
against Japan's Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open tennis tournament
at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jason
"Now I'm just there for one reason. I'm there, then
I'm gone. I have a limited time and I need to make the best of it.
You have a short time to have your priorities straight, to give it
all for the sport you love, but it doesn't end here.
"Tennis is not forever.
"So for me to be able to continue my career with having already had
a child, it's more meaningful. You can still chase your dream but I
have a much bigger life purpose now.
"Hopefully what Kim did and what hopefully Serena and I can do can
inspire more women to do the same. It's a stereotype that only male
players can succeed after having kids."
Azarenka is used to making comebacks.
A foot injury kept her off court for five months in 2014 and she has
suffered niggling injuries since. Her last tournament, the 2016
French Open, was curtailed by a knee injury.
So this break from the game has been a happier one as it also
allowed her to spend time with partner Billy McKeague, rediscover
her roots in Minsk and support her mother, Ala, who has successfully
"Emotionally it's completely different," she said. "Absence because
of injuries is a disappointment. But this was for a very happy
reason and I think it can help me.
"It was nice to experience the vibes in Minsk again. And it's given
me time to work hard on my body, make sure I'm strong and can come
back injury free," she said.
"I never really had that time before. I didn't really expect to play
this early. I don't know how I'm going to do. But I'm ready to play
and grind again and play a lot of matches.
"Just need time to get the rhythm back. I don't know how long that
will take but I will get there. Definitely. It's going to be fun."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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