WUHAN, China - Victoria Azarenka's season of bad fortune continued on Tuesday at the Wuhan Open, Azarenka's first tournament since losing to Halep in the US Open quarterfinals. She sustained a thigh injury during practice the day before her first match and finally hit the pain barrier in the second round, retiring down 6-4, 1-0 to Johanna Konta.
"I don't know if it was the right [decision] to play that long because I started feeling it right in the beginning of the match and obviously in the first match," Azarenka said. "I wanted to try my best, especially for the fans. They were out there cheering so hard. It was just difficult to just walk away from the court.
"But coming in a little bit not healthy, it's not easy definitely. But it's the end of the year. It's been a tough year. I just need to push a little bit more through."
The last 20 months have been tough for Azarenka. Sidelined for nearly four months last year with a foot injury, all eyes were on the two-time Australian Open champion as the 2015 season began. Many expected to see the former No.1 steadily make her way back into the Top 10.
Then came a sudden and surprising split from long-time coach Sam Sumyk in February, who left to take a role with Eugenie Bouchard's team. A bad run of draw luck - she lost to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, or Simona Halep in six of her 14 events - and more injuries forced her to retire or withdraw from four tournaments. She has progressed past the quarterfinals just once this season and struggled to get her ranking higher than No.19.
"The year has been tough, not just on the court," Azarenka said. "It's been still a lot of good experiences for me. But, as I said, just frustration. I guess my mind is not totally here right now. I'm just thinking a little bit ahead. But I got to try to stay present a little bit and give my best in my next two tournaments."
After her physical struggles this year she has already begun planning a rigorous off-season with her team. "It's going to be my first off?season with my new team," Azarenka said, referring to coaches Wim Fissette and Sascha Bajin, who took over coaching responsibilities after Sumyk in February. "That's something I didn't have an opportunity this year to work on. I didn't have a time slot that I can just dedicate to work on specific things. It's just been like a little bit there, a little bit there. That's resulted in a little bit of inconsistency from me right now.
"The important thing for me is to get my body fit 100%, on a consistent basis. I have a lot of work to do. That's why I think my mind is a little bit thinking too much for the next year because I have a plan what to do already in my off-season. I guess that kind of distracts me a little bit."
Azarenka has been pleased with her strength and endurance this season, but acknowledged a lack of speed and agility through the rallies. "I believe I need to get faster," the World No.23 said. "I need to get a little bit more mobile. I lost that, the first one?two step movement that I had before."
Despite her tough season, Azarenka was still able to post solid results when healthy. She made the quarterfinals at the US Open and Wimbledon as well as the round of 16 at the Australian Open. She was also the only player this year to consistently challenge No.1 Serena, holding match points at the Mutua Madrid Open and leading by a set at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Azarenka is clear: she has no doubts about her game, just about her body.
"The game is getting better," she said. "Even though I couldn't move today, I served really well. So there are positive things. I just need time to make sure that I put a really good amount of work in and dedicate myself and focus on fitness, focus on few things, and I'll be fine."