Victoria Azarenka happy to step back on European soil, claims first clay victory in two years in Madrid

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Welcome back, Vika!

Victoria Azarenka has taken countless flights throughout her career but she admits the plane she boarded to come to Madrid with her son Leo to compete in her first European tournament in 10 months was extra special.

The Belarusian had been locked in a custody battle with the father of her child that had prevented her from traveling outside the state of California with Leo.

The ex-world No. 1 was limited to playing just two tournaments this season, in Indian Wells and Miami, which were her first since Wimbledon last year.

But it seems a breakthrough in the custody case has allowed her to travel to Spain to take part in the Mutua Madrid Open and it was a double celebration for Azarenka when she kicked off her campaign with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Aleksandra Krunic to make the second round.

Azarenka had Leo in December 2016 and returned from her maternity leave last year during the grass season. But she only played two events, in Mallorca and Wimbledon, before being forced to stay away from the circuit.

Madrid is her first clay event in two years and her win over Krunic, that set up a second round clash with Karolina Pliskova, was Azarenka’s first victory on the surface since Madrid 2016.

“I was so happy to be on that plane, you have no idea. You have no idea how happy I was to just have fresh European air, European food, everything. I’m so happy to be out of the United States for now,” Azarenka said after her win on Sunday.

Currently ranked No. 99 in the world, Azarenka played just eight matches in total heading into Madrid, but she stunningly made the semi-finals in Miami in March.

“I’m focused on tennis as much as I can. But Miami just kind of gave me a lot of self-satisfaction, without having that preparation. Without having stability or anything like that, I’m still able to produce a high level of tennis,” said the 28-year-old.

“It does give me just that boost that I can do anything I want. I just need to be able to have stability, to practice, and to play matches.”

When Azarenka showed up at Indian Wells two months ago for the first time in eight months, it was a last-minute decision made on the eve of the tournament after things swung her way in her legal issues.

This time wasn’t much different but she was preparing for the clay season hoping her plans would materialise. She confirms she will be contesting Rome, Roland Garros, Mallorca and Wimbledon over the next three months.

“I have [been practicing on clay], but on a really sh**** clay. On green clay in the States, it’s horrible, which made me appreciate the red clay much more. I came here, all the bad bounces looked amazing, so maybe it’s a good thing,” Azarenka said with a smile.

“I found out close to the end of April that I could [come]. But I tried to stay focused on my training a lot more this time. I’ve done a little bit of better preparation overall. I’m trying to get a little bit more stability right now.”

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