MADRID, Spain - Victoria Azarenka is "in a very happy place" as she prepares for her first tournament outside the United States since Wimbledon last year, her coach told wtatennis.com.
For Azarenka, the European clay-court swing is also the start of "Mommy and Leo's adventures", with the Belarusian playing here at Madrid's Caja Magica before then competing in Rome and the French Open in Paris. Amid a custody battle that she says she "wouldn't wish on anyone", Azarenka had previously been restricted from travelling with her son outside America, with her only competitive tennis so far this season coming in Indian Wells in Califiornia, and then in Miami, where she reached the semifinals.
Speaking after a practice session in Madrid, Azarenka's coach Slava Konikov said the former WTA World No.1 was "stronger mentally and emotionally" than she had been just one or two months ago.
"She's in a very happy place. Everything's fine and she's ready to play. She's working hard. She's very happy that, after all these months, she can now play outside the United States. Everything is great. She's just so happy to play over here in Madrid and also other tournaments in Europe," Konikov said ahead of Azarenka's first-round match against Serbia's Aleksandra Krunic.
"She's changed a lot. She's doing it step by step, and she's much stronger than she was two months or one month ago - with her mentality and her emotions, she's much more consistent than she was before so she's doing very well."
When Azarenka is on the practice or match court, she tries to "forget" about her difficulties away from tennis.
"She's professional. She tries to forget everything else when she's on the court. She tries not to think about what's happening outside and just to concentrate on what's happening on the court and on the tennis. I'm very impressed," Konikov said.
To give her focus, Konikov has been trying to simplify Azarenka's thinking and approach to her tennis.
"I try to explain to her during practice: 'We need to figure out what's happening with your tennis'. I say to her: 'You need to be prepared for your match and just focus on doing your job'. If something happens, she asks me, 'What's going wrong?' But I say to her: 'Don't think about so much stuff'. It needs to be simple, simple, simple. She needs to focus."
Away from the courts, Konikov has seen how being a mother has brought Azarenka much joy and happiness.
"When she's free and away from the court, she's very focused on her baby. Most of the time, she is spending with her baby and she's very happy with her son," Konikov said. "Her son is great. He's always laughing and happy."