Victoria Azarenka returned to her hometown of Belarus where she chatted with The New York Times' Christopher Clarey on everything from motherhood to her relationship with friend and rival Serena Williams.
Azarenka reminisces of her earliest practice sessions in Belarus. “It was the best hitting partner, because it never misses, never complains,” Azarenka told The New York Times of the wall where it all began in a quaint gymnasium in the Republic Olympic Training Center. "...it was fun. I was in my own imaginary world.” Sometimes her imaginary opponents were Steffi Graf or Monica Seles.
Fast forward to present day, Azarenka has recently been absent from the game due to pregnancy leave. She gave birth to her son, Leo, on December 19 of last year. She looks to return to tennis this summer in Stanford for the Bank of the West Classic with a new title (mom), a new coach (Michael Joyce), and a new travel companion (Leo) by her side.
Azarenka will also be returning to the game at a time when Serena Williams will be out on pregnancy leave. She says "It’s a funny timing, but I do hope she is coming back, and we can have some more of our battles, because she’s one of the people I can’t imagine the tour without.”
Azarenka told The New York Times that her motivation to return is not just for herself, but for her son. "I want to give him a good example that if you have a goal and you have a dream, you can achieve it if you work hard."
As for the new mom's take on seizing opportunity, she says that "you don’t wait. You just grab it and go after it. I think I’ve always been very good at taking advantage of the opportunities that have been given to me, because I didn’t have many. Once I got one, I grabbed it with two hands.”
Although she spent less time facing obstacles on the tennis court in 2016, the 27-year-old faced new challenges off the court. She details in her interview with The New York Times that her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016, and also reveals that she has since been declared cancer free. "It was just such a relief. Not that there’s never going to be tough times in life, but I feel like we have made a big jump through a lot of hurdles.”
Read more from Azarenka on her roots in Belarus, how she met boyfriend Billy McKeague, and her relationship with expectant mother Serena Williams at The New York Times.