Melbourne - Rejuvenated former world number
one Victoria Azarenka believes she is primed for a solid run at the Australian
Open after an injury-wracked two years, with the pain-free star happy and in
The Belarusian won the opening Grand Slam
of the season at Melbourne Park in 2012 and defended the title the following
year before injuries stalled her high-flying career.
She struggled with foot and knee problems
in 2014 and only played nine tournaments, also battling depression and a split
from long-term boyfriend Stefan Gordy, better known as Redfoo, the US musician
and reality TV star.
Then a painful thigh strain in 2015 sent
her spiralling down the world rankings.
But she is again fighting fit and won the
build-up Brisbane International last weekend, dropping just 17 games in four
matches for her first title since Cincinnati in August 2013, propelling her
back into the world top 20 at number 16.
It sets up her as a legitimate threat at
the Australian Open, starting Monday, with a host of other top players
struggling with injuries or illness.
"Definitely a lot more comfortable, a
lot more calm, a lot more aware. Happy. Very happy," Azarenka told the
Herald Sun late on Tuesday as she prepares for another title shot.
"I was hurt the whole year
actually," she added of her troubled 2015 campaign.
"There was not a moment where I felt
good. (Now) I have no pain. There was a lot of medication last year which made
me feel crazy actually at some moments.
"I don't respond well to medication.
It was a constant battle with pain, with my own fear. Like, is it going to hurt
"I don't want to go through that. But
it took me to a point where I decided, 'Ok, I got to stop and try to figure out
and actually change my life around the tennis court'."
Nicknamed "Vika" and renowned in
the past for fiery on-court outbursts, Azarenka is now coached by Wim Fissette
after splitting with long-time mentor Sam Sumyk and said it had taken time to
"I had a lot of changes last year, so
it took a little bit of time to regroup, reorganise, mature a little bit,
understand how to organise yourself," she said, adding that she was once
again enjoying her tennis.
"I think being an athlete we always
think about physical performance tennis and tactical performance. I think
mental preparation is very important - feeling happy on the court.
"We have such a long season. To have
that sense of just enjoyment, joy on the court, I think is important,