|Victoria Azarenka of Belarus celebrates after winning the Women’s Singles Match against Russia’s Elena Vesnina on day three at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London Wednesday, July 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)|
LONDON (AP) — Victoria Azarenka walked to the baseline, preparing to serve, when a man shouted from the upper reaches of No. 3 Court, “Come on, Mom!”
It wasn’t her son, Leo, born in December, but it shows the 27-year-old former No. 1′s return to competition has caught on among the public.
Between Azarenka and Serena Williams, who announced in April she is pregnant with her first child, two former Grand Slam winners will attempt to balance their careers with motherhood.
Although Azarenka’s second-round victory over Elena Vesnina on Wednesday was only her fourth competitive match since December, she said she has already begun conversations with WTA officials about facilitating arrangements for child care.
If needed, the WTA will provide health and wellbeing support to players who are mothers, as well as other physiotherapy and counseling.
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“From my own power, I’ll do anything to make that happen because I think it’s really important,” Azarenka said. “The guys do have that luxury of having the nurseries and stuff at every event and I think it’s time for women to have the same benefit.”
The travel has been the most difficult part thus far, Azarenka said. Although Leo is “actually a very good traveler,” preparing for flights has been stressful.
Carving out time for tennis has also been troublesome. Last week, she posted a photo on Instagram of Leo, lying on a blanket and chewing on a plastic credential while she practiced.
To help take care of her son during the tournament, Azarenka has her mother, Alla, and her boyfriend, Billy McKeague, with her.
“I have absolutely no idea how it feels to have a baby on tour or how she manages that, you know?” ninth-ranked Dominika Cibulkova said. “It’s not easy. It’s something — it must be completely different.”
The last mother to win the singles title at Wimbledon was Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won her third title at the All England Club when she defeated Chris Evert in 1980. Mandy Minella, who lost in the first round to Francesca Schiavone on Monday but will play in the doubles tournament, is four months pregnant.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2012, when she ended the year at No. 1.
After defeating CiCi Bellis in the first round, she encountered the 16th-ranked Vesnina, who had not beaten Azarenka in seven previous meetings.
The eighth was no different. Azarenka broke her opponent late in the first set and early again in the second, and Vesnina, after taking a medical timeout to address a lingering back injury, double-faulted twice in the deciding game. Azarenka won 6-3, 6-3.
“It was not easy,” Vesnina said. “I cannot say she is playing now as she was playing when she was No. 1 in the world. She needs some time to adjust, some time to feel her game and where she is right now. It’s not easy, but a couple more matches and I’m sure she’ll be back.”
Azarenka, who will face Heather Watson of Britain in the third round, said she has had an ongoing discussion with Williams about her experiences. She also spoke this week to Kim Clijsters, whose third child was born in October.
“It wasn’t a long conversation,” Azarenka said, “but it’s nice to see that some of my colleagues have children and we have just much more in common than just tennis.”