Vic­to­ria hop­ing for an in­jury-free year af­ter her dis­ap­point­ing 2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

WORLD num­ber two Vic­to­ria Azarenka, 24, says she is bat­tling to get her fit­ness back on track af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing 2013 as she pre­pared to face world num­ber one Ser­ena Wil­liams in Thai­land to­day.

“Last year I had some dif­fi­cul­ties but now I am work­ing hard to keep up my fit­ness,” the Be­laru­sian said be­fore the ex­hi­bi­tion match.

Azarenka, a two-time Aus­tralian Open cham­pion who ended 2013 with just three ti­tles, said she was hop­ing for a vic­tory to bring her good luck again in Mel­bourne.

“I won this ex­hi­bi­tion match for two con­sec­u­tive years and went on to win the Aus­tralian Open which is very good,” she told re­porters in the sea­side re­sort of Hua Hin.

The two play­ers, who were also due to hit the cat­walk for a spe­cial fash­ion show, ap­peared un­fazed by re­cent deadly po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence which has shaken the cap­i­tal Bangkok.

Asked about the un­rest, Azarenka said: “I came here to play ten­nis and I only wanted to fo­cus on ten­nis. I wanted to make the peo­ple happy and en­ter­tain them.”

Wil­liams, 32, ended 2013 with 11 ti­tles while tri­umphs at the French and US Opens took her Grand Slam haul to 17.

She en­joyed a match record of 78 wins against just four de­feats, claimed the sea­so­nend­ing WTA Cham­pi­onships ti­tle and also be­came the old­est num­ber one player.

Asked what would be her next chal­lenge, Wil­liams said: “I just want to en­joy play­ing ten­nis. For me, it is the chal­lenge ev­ery day. I en­joy it.”

Azarenka has won just three of her 16 meet­ings against Wil­liams, al­though she split their four clashes in 2013 and for a sec­ond suc­ces­sive sea­son took her great ri­val to three sets in the US Open fi­nal.

It was mostly a year to for­get for the Be­laru­sian for­mer num­ber one who limped out of Wim­ble­don in the early stages with a knee in­jury.

She failed to reach the WTA Cham­pi­onships semi-fi­nals in Tur­key in Oc­to­ber as she bat­tled a lower back in­jury.

Azarenka will start her 2014 sea­son with a re­turn to Bris­bane where she was forced to with­draw from the semi-fi­nals a year ear­lier due to a toe in­fec­tion on her right foot.

But she went on to win the Aus­tralian Open later that month for a sec­ond straight year – one of her few high­lights of 2013. – Sapa-AFP


WORLD NUM­BER TWO: Vic­to­ria Azarenka, 24, has beaten all­con­quer­ing Ser­ena Wil­liams just three times in 18 matches, but has twice won the Aus­tralian Open.

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