At 33, Azarenka Still Loves The Competition, Still Loves The Game

Victoria Azarenka (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka has only played a handful of matches since the French Open. That’s because the former World No. 1 from Belarus was banned from participating in this year’s Wimbledon Championships due to her country’s support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She didn’t see any benefit playing in this summer’s grass-court season.

Instead, Azarenka, who considers herself a citizen of the world, spent some quality time at home in Florida with her family. That brought her a lot of joy and happiness.

“I have a dog now so that takes a lot of extra time. I have two babies now! My life is pretty great outside of tennis,” said Azarenka, now ranked 22nd and sporting a Paris St. Germain jersey as she sat for a media round table at the recent Citi Open in Washington, D.C., which Tennis TourTalk participated in.  She broke into a big grin as she spoke.

At home, Azarenka also had a chance to train and maintain her match fitness during her downtime from the WTA Tour.

“Going back on the road makes it more difficult – I love the competition and I still love the game,” Azarenka said. “I love to play.”

However, as Azarenka admitted, “being on the road, staying in hotels and dealing with travel, aggravates me.” The trade off, though, excites the 33-year-old Minsk native, who maintains residences in the U.S., Monte Carlo and Belarus. “As long as I have the thrill of going on tour – and goosebumps of playing in a night session – I want to continue to do that and I’m excited.”

The 6-foot-tall Azarenka, who turned pro in 2003 and reached World No. 1 in 2012 after winning the first of her two Australian Open titles, has earned more than $34 million in her career. She owns 21 career WTA Tour titles and 511 lifetime victories, including 351 on hard courts.

After a quarterfinal run at the Citi Open, which included wins over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine and Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic before losing to China’s Wang Xiyu, Azarenka was unable to obtain a visa to enter Canada for last week’s National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto and had to skip the tournament. Now, she’s into the second round at this week’s Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, following a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Citi Open finalist Kaia Kanepi of Estonia Monday night. On Wednesday afternoon, Azarenka will face reigning US Open champion and current World No. 13 Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, who eliminated 23-time major titlist Serena Williams.

Azarenka said in Washington, D.C. that returning to the WTA Tour after a long break would be an adjustment, “getting back into facing competition,” but still an important step.

“Anywhere I go, I have one goal and that’s to win … but I always take it one match at a time,” she said. Often, her five-year-old son Leo accompanies her on tour.

Does Leo have any concept that his mom is famous? “I’ll always be a mom to him,” she said. “I think the concept of him sharing me with the world, sometimes he doesn’t understand it’s my job. I’m not always sure he really enjoys this because he’s protective of me. He understands that I’m playing tennis, that there’s travel and he understands the environment.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Azarenka how important it was to be able to play in front of full stadium crowds again, she perked up. “Fans and full crowds and full stadiums … that’s what we play for. We are athletes – and that’s what our job is. I also look at it from the perspective that we are entertainers, too,” she said. “We’re here to put on a good show. I think that’s important to do. We’re inspiring a lot of kids. I am a fan of this environment, with a lot of people and crowds. It excites me.

“I’m excited that there are more people in the stands,” she added. “Seeing the full crowds is what keeps me going, what motivates me to go out and train hard. I always think of myself as a kid, wanting this opportunity to go to a tournament.”

Finally, Tennis TourTalk asked Azarenka what she still wants to accomplish in her professional career. “My goal on the tennis court is to win Grand Slams,” she stressed. “I still want to win big titles. I want to go as far as I can to reach my potential. When I know I cannot improve my game, that’s when I’ll know it’s it for me.

“Outside the court, my goal is to make sure that I leave tennis in a better place than when I came. That’s my ultimate goal, to grow the game – to have more women around the world play tennis, to make sure equality is a high priority. I don’t mean just equal opportunity. I want to do everything in my power to help younger kids achieve their dreams and have a better future.”


• With Naomi Osaka‘s loss to Zhang Shuai at the Western & Southern Open Tuesday afternoon, it’s the first time she’s lost her opening matches in back-to-back tournaments since Canada and Cincinnati in 2018. She went on to win her next event, the 2018 US Open.

Amanda Anisimova‘s 6-4, 6-4 win on Monday over San Jose champion and World No. 10 Daria Kasatkina in the first round at the Western & Southern Open was her ninth Top-20 win of the season.

Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games silver medalist, has withdrawn from the US Open due to a wrist injury. It means that Canada’s Rebecca Marino moves into the main draw.