2018 marked an emotional and difficult return to tennis for Victoria Azarenka, by the player’s own admission. The Belarusian former World No 1 is set to play in her first Australian Open since 2016 when she lost in the quarter-finals to Angelique Kerber. The German ace would go on to defeat Serena Williams for the title. Azarenka had a less than stellar showing at Grand Slams in 2016, retiring in the first round at the French Open and withdrawing from Wimbledon with a recurrent knee injury. Azarenka would get pregnant ahead of the US Open, beginning her maternity leave at that time.
In the year since, what followed for Azarenka was not the glorious return to tennis that the player had imagined. Instead, a long-drawn-out custody battle against the father of her son forced Azarenka to miss the majority of the early 2018 season in the melee of the court dates that followed. She was also unable to travel out of California, leading to her missing many tournaments on the WTA Tour. Caught in the middle of legal issues and custody battles, Azarenka nevertheless marked a triumphant return to tennis at Indian Wells in March 2018 with a win against former British No 1 Heather Watson. Hard courts have long been Azarenka’s strongest surface, and the Belarusian had won the title at Indian Wells twice before; but by her own admission, this particular win had been different.
Another hard-court legend — perhaps an every-court legend, Serena Williams, also marks her first Australian Open since 2017. The American ace beat sister Venus in the final to win her 23rd Grand Slam title and later revealed that she was two months pregnant at the time — a fact only her sister Venus had been aware of. Since then, the younger Williams has more than convincingly come back at the Grand Slam level and proved beyond a doubt that she is perhaps at the peak of her fitness levels since pregnancy. Read more