(Reuters/NAN) 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.
It was a day which 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 practice, 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 different mentalities.
“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 practice 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 practicing 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.
She hopes to 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.
“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.”