DUBAI -- Stubbornness is a quality ingrained in the greats. That unquestioning belief, unwavering commitment and work ethic fueled Victoria Azarenka to World No.1, two Australian Open titles and 21 career titles. 

But the truly stubborn, the ones purely committed to finding their best, also recognize that sometimes, things have to change. The formula responsible for a player's success can fall out of favor through no fault of their own. Azarenka, now 34 years old and ranked No.27, is ready to embrace the unknown.

"When you have success, you become quite conservative," Azarenka told WTA Insider in Dubai. "It's something that you probably rely on, something you've learned, something that worked. And then things change. The physicality of the sport changed -- balls, surfaces, players, and game styles changed. 

"If you have an open mind and you're able to apply that objective criticism and understand, yes, I can probably beat 90 percent of players playing my old game, with what I learned and based on experience. But there's that 10 percent and those are at the later stages of tournaments. What do I need to be able to do to win against those? 

"I think that really is something that I try to understand and shred those walls of that conservativeness and what I know and what I'm really good at. It's scary. It's not easy, because it's one thing to understand that quite well, but another to be able to go and dare."

"I think what separates good players from great players is that everybody sometimes has fear, and everybody has doubts. How much is it gonna hold you back?"

- Victoria Azarenka

Wim Fissette once described Azarenka as the most analytical player he had ever coached. Azarenka says lately she's been taking cues from watching ATP No.1 Novak Djokovic. 

"I'm not sure how many people actually do see the changes that he made, even technically, with his serve and some of the movements in the game," Azarenka said. "It's pretty impressive." 

On Monday, Azarenka kicked off her Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships campaign with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Arantxa Rus. The win sets up a marquee second-round showdown against the tour's match-win leader, No.4 Elena Rybakina. A win would give Azarenka her first Top 5 win in over a year, dating back to her win over Jessica Pegula at the 2023 Australian Open.

Azarenka has enjoyed a solid start to the new season. She is 10-3 on the year and has made the quarterfinals or better at two of her three tournaments. Two of her three losses came to the World No.1 Iga Swiatek and No.2. Aryna Sabalenka. And in what has become an early-season calling card, Azarenka is the only player on tour to have defeated Jelena Ostapenko this season, posting a 3-0 record. 

"I feel like I've adopted a good mindset in the way that I can work on things and through things in tournaments," Azarenka said, "which I think was a bit less before where it was like you prepare before and then in tournaments you're just trying to play the way you can. 

"I think that's a better approach going into this year. I feel like I've been able to do that so far pretty well. But I definitely want to clean up some things, make sure that when I play big matches, I'm able to convert some of those opportunities that I create."

When it comes to facing down the tour's elite, the devil is in the details. Facing Rybakina in the Brisbane semifinals in January, Azarenka had a trio of break point chances deep in the second set but failed to convert. She lost 6-2, 6-4. Two weeks later, she had set points in the first set and led 3-0 in the second, but lost in straight sets to Dayana Yastremska. 

"Sometimes when you when you play these big matches, the expectation rises, that it's going to be something incredible," Azarenka said. "For me it was very important to play against Iga in Doha. I wish I was physically a bit more ready, but I kind of understand how I can match against her. A match against Aryna, a match against Elena, I always have chances. 

"For me, it is to be able to find that key where I make those right or better choices in those moments. And then we'll see. But I will definitely try my best to figure those things out. It's a great challenge. I'm looking forward to that every time. Challenge excites me."