French Open 2020: After years of hating clay, Victoria Azarenka looks forward to Roland Garros challenge

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, credited increased maturity for her resurgence and sounded enthusiastic about her French Open prospects.

Agence France-Presse September 26, 2020 00:10:49 IST
French Open 2020: After years of hating clay, Victoria Azarenka looks forward to Roland Garros challenge

Victoria Azarenka reached the quarter-finals of the recently-concluded Italian Open at Rome. AP

Paris: Victoria Azarenka is welcoming the challenge of trying to back up her run to the US Open final with another strong showing at Roland Garros despite just three wins in Paris over the past seven years.

The Belarusian's career had nosedived after injury and then a custody battle of her son, but the former world number one showed in New York she was far from finished at Grand Slam level.

Her loss to Naomi Osaka was her third US Open final defeat, but also marked her first appearance in a Grand Slam championship match since the second of back-to-back losses to Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows in 2013.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, credited increased maturity for her resurgence and sounded enthusiastic about her French Open prospects.

"I feel like especially from last year, I felt that I finally start to kind of finding my rhythm, actually enjoying myself playing on clay, sliding, instead of cussing the clay out every single time I play on it," Azarenka, 31, told reporters on Friday.

"I feel like I enjoy better, I adjust better. I think it's going to be a lot about adaptation from day-to-day.

"I'm actually excited to kind of build up my game on clay. The second year I enjoy it after 16 years on tour. I'm looking forward to it."

Azarenka's best performance in the French capital came when she reached the last four in 2013, losing in three sets to Maria Sharapova.

In four appearances since, she has not advanced beyond the third round and twice lost her opening match.

Of Azarenka's 21 career titles, just the one — at the short-lived Andalucia Tennis Experience in 2011 — has come on clay.

"I hated clay. I hated everything about it. The shitty bounces, the sliding that I can't stop. The ball bounce here and everything," said a grinning Azarenka.

"Ask me what I could not complain about when I used to play, so...I guess (that's) growth."

The world number 14 opens against Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, and could meet 40-year-old Venus Williams in round two.

Azarenka, seeded 10th, is also on course to meet old rival and close friend Serena Williams in the last 16, just weeks after she beat the 23-time Grand Slam winner in their US Open semi-final.

"I think the focus is what can I do best to perform here. It's going to be a lot about adjustment," said Azarenka, with gusting winds and overcast conditions expected to start the tournament.

"I played today for the first time on the courts here after it rained. It's very different. The court feels really, really heavy.

"It's not going to be like a normal Roland Garros where the ball bounces high and the court gets faster. I feel like it's going to be something different. I feel like it's going to be day-to-day adjustment. I think more than ever it's going to be about day to day."

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