NEW YORK, NY, USA - Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka is back in the winners’ circle for the first time since 2016 after lifting the Western & Southern Open trophy on Saturday morning.  

Azarenka’s tournament came to an abrupt conclusion as her opponent, Naomi Osaka, was forced to withdraw ahead of the final citing a hamstring injury. But after a week of producing ‘vintage Vika’ performances that saw her drop just one set en route to the championship match, the former champion is still very much pleased with her run in New York.

 Read more: Osaka withdraws from Cincy final, Azarenka wins title

 “I think it's unfortunate, because I was actually really looking forward to compete against Naomi,” Azarenka told press via video chat. “ It would have been an amazing opportunity to face her level, and she's been playing really great.  I lost to her last time that we played, so I was really looking forward to that. 

“And playing the final is always really special… I just have to accept what it is. I would have loved to have played, but, you know, I played five really good matches this week, and I think I deserve to be where I am today.”

2020 Cincinnati Shot of the Day: Azarenka’s net working skills

Coming into the tournament, Azarenka was shaking off the rust after missing the first three months of the year due to personal reasons and the next five as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Azarenka’s only two events of the year ended in first-round exits, and the Belarusian had gone winless in singles since last year’s Cincinnati tournament.  

But Azarenka broke that streak in style with an upset over No.15 seed Donna Vekic, and then continued her run with another pair of straight sets victories over Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet. She took down one of the most in-form players of 2020 with a victory over Ons Jabeur, and recorded her first Top 20 victory of the year to fight past No.8 seed Johanna Konta, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. 

“I'm excited to go out there and play,” Azarenka reflected. “My confidence level, I don't think it changed just based on the result that I won here. I felt pretty confident in my work that I have been doing.

 “So the result is just confirmation that what I have been doing is right, but going on the court, I have been pretty confident in my abilities. It's just putting those things together now. It shows that it's the right work that I have been doing.”

Photo by Cincy Tennis

For Azarenka, it’s more than just her first WTA singles title since winning the ‘Sunshine Double’ in Indian Wells and Miami in 2016 - it’s her first title since becoming a mom to son Leo later that same year.

 “[This achievement] is pretty significant,” Azarenka said. “It's my first title as a mom. I haven't even thought about it. So that makes it special. That part is special for me."

Read more: US Open Draw Analysis: Opportunity beckons in open field

She added, “You know, I work hard to win matches, but I'm so much enjoying the process of playing and the battling that winning is like, I guess, the bonus, you know? Winning a tournament is a bonus.

“I enjoy playing. Like, I had so much fun practicing today that I kind of want to go out and play more,” she joked. “It's just a different feeling for me, being on the court right now.”

Victoria Azarenka kicks off her US Open campaign on Tuesday, taking on Barbara Haas in the first round.