Azarenka enjoying life on and off the tennis court

NEW YORK • A rejuvenated Victoria Azarenka says she is going to keep pushing for titles fuelled by a more relaxed outlook on life.

The two-time Grand Slam winner lost to Japan's Naomi Osaka in three sets in the US Open decider on Saturday, her first appearance in the final of a Major in seven years.

Many commentators thought the former world No. 1 was done at the top after her career was first disrupted by injury and then by a custody battle over her son, who was born in December 2016.

The Belarusian was forced to skip the 2017 US Open and the 2018 Australian Open as she could not leave her Californian home till the court case with Billy McKeague, her former boyfriend and father of her child, was settled.

Her topsy-turvy form, including giving this year's Australian Open a miss because of "personal problems", meant few considered her to be in the running despite the raft of big names missing in Flushing Meadows due to Covid-19 fears.

But the unseeded 31-year-old made a fairy-tale run to the final, including a three-sets win over former foe Serena Williams in the last four.

"I had a great two weeks. I enjoyed myself. I did everything I could today," said Azarenka, winner of the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013.

"I'm not necessarily disappointed. It's just painful to lose. That is what it is. I was close. But it didn't go my way."

The world No. 27, who will move up 13 places today, is benefiting from a new outlook on life, in contrast to her younger years when winning matches was all that mattered.

"I feel that I enjoyed more the way I am on the court," she said. "Not necessarily focused on the result, but focusing on your progress, being in the moment, embracing the tough moments, tough challenges.

"When you're young, you got some not great people around you, they just put in, like, this tunnel vision. Don't look right, don't look left.

"You're kind of missing the point of living. You're becoming this focused machine as a tennis player.

"So I'm able to be more fulfilled outside of the tennis court, on the tennis court. I think that's a real success. I will take that any day over just the tennis results."

Azarenka will now take the momentum she has generated into the European clay-court swing. She has a wild card to play in Rome, where she takes on Venus Williams in her opening game this week, before the Sept 21-Oct 11 French Open.

"I'm looking forward to play on clay," she said. "It's going to be a quick turnaround, but it's going to be fun."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2020, with the headline 'Azarenka enjoying life on and off the tennis court'. Print Edition | Subscribe