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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 01: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus leaves after a practice session at Wimbledon on July 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: Five Minutes with Victoria Azarenka

Saturday, July 1 on Court 18.

12:30: “One more step back, come on,” Victoria Azarenka tells herself after hitting a groundstroke long. Later that afternoon, at her pre-Wimbledon press conference: “I think I got smarter as a player over the years.”

12:31: Azarenka turns back to her new coach, Michael Joyce. Said Vika: “I really liked his philosophy. I told him that I don’t want to come back and play just to have fun.”

12:32: Azarenka strikes a full-bodied crosscourt forehand for a winner. She told Joyce when they first met, “I want to come back and make sure I get to the top level.”

12:33: On the next point, Joyce moves from behind the court to a position alongside the net post. Azarenka drives an inside-out backhand: “I expect myself to be present every single moment I’m on the court.”

12:34: Another rally. Two feet behind the service line, Azarenka hits a one-handed slice backhand cross court, makes her way to net and then finishes the point with an overhead winner, also struck crosscourt, also carved rather delicately, as if from the time of Evonne Goolagong and Billie Jean King.

“Well,” said Azarenka, “it’s a different surface. It is different that you’re playing in all white….I think the Centre Court is absolutely gorgeous here. When you do walk to that court or step on it, is definitely is a special feeling.”

Azarenka’s first Wimbledon match in two years takes place Monday, sometime after 5:00 p.m., on a court yet to be assigned. Her opponent will be 19-year-old American, CiCi Bellis, making her Wimbledon main draw debut. “She’s definitely a good player,” said Azarenka, who practiced with Bellis recently in Mallorca. “At this age you have nothing to lose, just go out there with no pressure, and playing.” It’s a bit unfortunate these two meet in the first round, as each of them has an interesting storyline – Azarenka on the way back from injury and pregnancy, Bellis in the ascent. Then again, noted Azarenka, “I’m happy to play against anybody.”

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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