2016 Aegon International

Azarenka takes advantage of being pain-free

Ex-world #1 sets target to keep improving

Victoria Azarenka, the world #5, is not a fan of clay yet she is among the favourites to wrestle the French Open crown off American ace Serena Williams.

The Eastbourne-bound Belarus star, who has hit a resurgent patch, has been close to glory at Roland Garros but was stopped in her tracks at the semi-final stage.

Although the ex-world #1 last lifted a Grand Slam three years ago, capturing the Australian Open, she last tasted semi-final at a major in 2014.

Azarenka is positive about her future, having battled up the world rankings with the prestigious #1 spot, currently held by veteran Williams, her aim to achieve.

“I believe I’ve improved, and I’m still improving, so I want to use this year – and hopefully next year – for a process to keep improving my game and make myself the best player as possible.”

karin

Karin Knapp

Azarenka kicks off her shot at winning the French Open on either Monday or Tuesday against Italian Karin Knapp.

And she is scheduled to face Williams in the quarter-finals. The pair were involved in a thriller on the Paris red clay last term but Azarenka allowed the USA superstar to progress despite having led by a set and a break.

Azarenka added:” It’s the most challenging major because of the specific movement that you have to adapt on the clay.

“The difficulty is the sliding, which I don’t use on the hard courts where I’m able to go with one shot from defence to offence.

“It’s more difficult to do than one, two shots – it takes patience.”

Azarenka’s season has been highly impressive to date, which included back-to-back tournament wins at Indian Wells and Miami.

Williams was her victim at Indian Wells and Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, who shocked Williams early on, failed to get the better of Azarenka.

But a recent back injury has halted Azarenka’s winning streak on clay courts:

“After my back injury I didn’t play tennis, instead I took a couple of days off. I still kept doing my exercise for the back and continued with what I could do to stay active.

“But for me it was more mental to just get away and get myself focused again and motivated again. And away from the courts I went home and spent time with the family – which for me is always the best recharge.

“I arrived pretty early to Paris, so I had a few days of training here already. It was good for me to take some time off and regroup. I have been practicing pain-free, so I’m feeling ready to start the tournament.”

azarenka

Azarenka at last year’s French Open

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