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Tennis: Comeback queen Victoria Azarenka can make a Wimbledon charge

“I have been truly inspired by so many female athletes who return to the very top of their sport after having children and I plan to do exactly that,” says Azarenka.
Victoria Azarenka. AP Photo
Victoria Azarenka. AP Photo

‘I have some news for you all,” wrote Victoria Azarenka as she announced her pregnancy and break from the game through her Twitter account last July.

She said she “couldn’t be happier” and felt “very blessed” to begin this “exciting journey of building a family together”.

Tennis, however, was still on her mind, even at that “special” moment, and Azarenka vowed to take the time off to “improve myself in ways I’ve never been able to do before”.

“I have been truly inspired by so many female athletes who return to the very top of their sport after having children and I plan to do exactly that,” she added.

In her first match back from maternity leave, Azarenka showed that determination had not waned as she saved three match points to down Japan’s Risa Ozaki in an opening round match of the Mallorca Open earlier this month.

Not bad for someone who was playing her first official match since defaulting in the first round at last year’s French Open because of a knee injury. And definitely not bad considering it was her first match on grass since her loss to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of 2015 Wimbledon.

With Williams now on a maternity break herself, and Maria Sharapova nursing an injury, Azarenka will return to the All England Club for this year’s tournament, which begins on Monday, as one of the leading names in the women’s draw.

Will she be one of the contenders as well? Given the parlous state of women’s tennis, nothing is impossible as Jelena Ostapenko’s triumph at the French Open showed.

Historically, though, not many mothers have managed to get their name etched on the Wimbledon trophy.

The last to do so was Evonne Goolagong, who triumphed at the All England Club in 1980, three years after the birth of her first child. The one before her was Dorothea Lambert Chambers in 1914.

Goolagong, of course, is one of only three mothers to win a major in the Open era. Margaret Court gave birth to her first child in March, 1972, and then came back to win the Australian Open, French Open and US Open in 1973.

Kim Clijsters, then, added her name to the list in 2009 when she won the US Open – only her third tournament back – with daughter Jada Elle watching from the stands.

The Belgian successfully defended her title 12 months later and won the 2011 Australian Open as well to finish her career with four grand slams.

Azarenka, who, at 27, is returning to the courts at the same age as Clijsters in 2009, is confident she can put her name on that list of tennis’ Super Mums.

“I’m managing my time better now,” Azarenka, who gave birth to son Leo in December, told Reuters. “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.

“Hopefully what Kim did and what hopefully Serena and I can do can inspire more women to do the same. It’s a stereotype that only male players can succeed after having kids.”

Azarenka, then, will be in a defiant mood when she takes to the courts at the All England Club early next week and, given her characteristic resilience, do not count against her being crowned champion on July 15.​

arizvi@thenational.ae

Updated: June 29, 2017 04:00 AM

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