MALLORCA, Spain - Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka returns from maternity leave at the Mallorca Open this week - and yesterday she laid down a gauntlet to her rivals, saying that she can be even better than before.
"I think I'm more competitive - that quality never left me," the 27-year-old said in a press conference. "I really feel I haven't reached my potential yet and I think I can be better."
This was also behind her decision to bring her comeback forwards: originally scheduled for the American hard-court swing in July, Azarenka announced last month that she would be returning sooner than expected on grass.
"I thought I was tired of practicing - I needed something to practice for," she revealed. "It was not more about how I was ready physically, but whether I was ready mentally to go out there and get back into travelling with the team, to adjust everything."
To prepare for her comeback, Azarenka has been working as hard as ever - "a lot of blood, sweat and tears," she joked - but also more smartly.
"We had more than the time of the off-season, and were able to implement some of the things that when you play are hard to change," she explained. "So I worked a little bit on changing my technique, the biomechanics, to make sure that I can prolong my career."
What hasn't changed is Azarenka's attitude.
"I always have the mentality of being really focused and to put everything I have on to the tennis court, and that didn't go anywhere," she declared.
The Mallorca Open is Azarenka's first tournament since her first-round loss at last year's Roland Garros, and she will open against World No.74 Risa Ozaki in her first match here. Currently unranked, she has been hitting the practice courts in Mallorca - while also finding time for some mother-son bonding in the spectacular setting of the Spanish island.
Last month, Azarenka said that she saw her return as marking the second part of her career, explaining: "I just love playing, and that's the only reason why I'm playing again. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't have come [back]."