LEXINGTON, KY, USA - Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka had played just one match in 2020 before she found herself packing up her racquets again when the WTA tour was suspended amid the spread of coronavirus.
At first, the two-time Australian Open champion thought that a short break would give her the chance to hit the practice courts before making her comeback - but soon realized that this would not be like any of the other interruptions she’s experienced in her career.
Nearly five months later, Azarenka joined the ranks of Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff and more in Lexington, Kentucky for the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics. It’s the WTA’s first tournament on US soil as the tour returns to play, alongside events in Palermo and Prague in Europe.
Speaking to press remotely via video call from Lexington, Azarenka reflected on how the five-month break leaves most players in an unfamiliar situation: having to restart their season from square one.
“I was just ready to restart play and I was excited. I had just one tournament in,” Azarenka said, recalling her second-round exit in Monterrey earlier this year. “And when the first tournament was canceled, I was like, ‘Well I still need time to practice, so I’m going to take a month off. It’ll be okay.’ And then six months… it was just too long!
“So I guess everyone will start from the same starting point, but I don’t think I can compare any other layouts to this one.”
Indeed, Lexington already looks different from the previous tournaments where Azarenka has staged her own famous comebacks. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, health and safety protocols are in place that include testing and social distancing, and there will be no fans in attendance.
“You’re not supposed to get out anywhere outside of your hotel, so... Uber Eats, Postmates, and all those services are at hand now, so you minimize any possibility to go outside,” Azarenka described.
“I mean, there’s a lot of restrictions - for our safety, but obviously it’s something to get used to,” she added. “It’s going to be a little tough to adjust. None of us does know when it’s going to be over, so I think if everyone takes 100 percent seriousness and awareness of the situation that is happening right now and brings their best responsibility, then I hope we can have something safe and successful.”
Azarenka’s lone 2020 match, a one-sided 6-2, 6-2 loss to Tamara Zidansek in Monterrey, didn’t give her much to build on. Earlier in the season she had also missed the Australian Open due to personal reasons, and before that had not competed since reaching the US Open doubles final - nearly a year ago.
With the rest of the tournament field also playing their first professional matches in nearly five months, Azarenka is relishing the opportunity to make her own fresh start to 2020 in Lexington.
“Obviously I want to just start from somewhere,” Azarenka told press. “You know, just start competing and try to feel again that feeling of competitions and momentum swings. We practice for so long but there’s nothing like playing actual matches where you feel the atmosphere. I don’t really know what to expect.
“I feel like it’s just a good starting point. And it’s going to be a super competitive field here - so many great names, so many great players. So it’s going to be a great opportunity to have some good matches with such high-quality players.”
Main draw play at the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics kicks off on Monday, August 10.