Victoria Azarenka is readying a summer return to the tour. The former No.1 gave birth to a healthy baby boy Leo in December, and she now has her eye on getting back on the hard courts for the US Open Series, which begins after Wimbledon.
In an exclusive interview with Tennis Channel, Azarenka confirmed that she has brought on Michael Joyce as her new coach. Joyce served as a long-time coach and hitting partner to Maria Sharapova and more recently coached Jessica Pegula. He steps into a role vacated by Wim Fissette (now with Johanna Konta) and Sascha Bajin (now with Caroline Wozniacki).
"I started training about three weeks ago," Azarenka told Tennis Channel. "Physically I want to get my body strong, and it's more about rebuilding the body. I'm taking enough time to be able to work on things that, as a tennis player in the off-season, you don't have enough time to do. I want to put a few changes for myself. That's why I'm taking a little bit of time to work on those things and be able to implement and have enough time to work on them."
"My goal, for now, is to be ready for summer, the US Open Series, and we'll see where it goes. This is realistically where I want to start. Also if Leo is ready to travel the world, I want to be comfortable. I don't want to rush anything. I've done it before after injuries and it didn't work out well. Even though it's a completely different story this time, I want to give myself the best opportunity. I don't call it a comeback. It's more a continuation of my career and going after my dreams and goals."
So will we see the same Vika that won two Australian Opens and dominated the start of the 2016 season, where she won three of four tournaments, including the Sunshine Double? Azarenka says no.
We're going to see a better one.
"I want to get everything better, from movement to shot selection, shot technique, improve my serve," Azarenka said. "I think last year you could see the improvement on my serve, and the conversion and aggressivity. This is one direction I've already taken last year. This is heading toward that goal of getting my game stronger.
"Physically I want to be stronger. I want to work smart to prevent injuries. Overall I'm always looking to improve. Having a different team -- I spoke to Michael a lot and he had a lot of ideas that I was interested to listen to. We clicked right away with what we want to do, so now it's time to start adding all these components to the game. Even though I was a pretty complete player, I still have a lot of things to work on."
"I have no doubt that I can improve much more. That's why I'm taking my time to work smart and add to my game to become a better player. That's the only reason why I want to go back and play on the tour. I don't want to come back and just play. I want to go back and be the best again. That's my goal."
Watch Azarenka's full interview with Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport, discussing motherhood, student life, and her impending comeback on Tennis Channel here: