Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
Her place in the third round safely secured thanks to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Elena Vesnina, Victoria Azarenka’s day shift was over by lunchtime and she could not have been happier. Still in the early stages of her comeback from maternity leave, everything was falling into place nicely.
Azarenka had never lost to Vesnina, beating her seven times on the bounce. But that was back in the days when Azarenka had a ranking (and that ranking was No.1
for most of 2012 and part of 2013). This match was only her fourth since her return to tour after having her son, Leo, last December.
She got into the main draw due a protected ranking of No.6 but in reality, she did not have a point to her name when she made her comeback in Majorca two weeks ago. No matter, the one match she won there earned her 30 whole ranking points. It was not much, but it was a start and meant that the rankings computer now acknowledged her existence, listing her as the world’s 683rd best player. Clearly, the rankings computer has never seen her play.
Learning how to juggle motherhood with the life of an elite athlete is taking a little getting used to. On the opening day of The Championships, her match was not allocated to any particular court – she was a ‘to be arranged’ match with a start time not before 5pm. That start time was clearly designed to help Azarenka structure her day. Alas, it backfired somewhat.
“I had to be here the whole day, which is, for a new mum, a little tough,” Azarenka said. “Hopefully I won't play like this again.”
So how did she cope with an eight month old baby and day spent kicking her heels waiting for her match to start? Was baby Leo with her?
“I didn't just leave him at home by himself,” she said with a smile on her face that suggested she thought the world’s media were not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. “But no, not today. As I said, it's tough to know what time I was going to play, and this is way past his bedtime. So I wouldn't do that to him.”
Ever vigilant to the players’ needs, the fine people of Wimbledon had obviously taken on board these observations and when Leo’s mum came back to work on Wednesday, there was her name at the top of list for duty on Court No.3 with a start time of 11.30am sharp. That would make sure she was home in good time for bath and bedtime. Round these parts, ask and it shall be done.
She began with a very clear game plan: keep the ball away from the Russian’s forehand
Back with the day job, not much appeared to have changed in the months that Azarenka had been away (she played her last match, pre-Leo, at the French Open last year). The two-tiered wail (it cannot be described as a grunt) was still very much in evidence which paired with Vesnina’s yelp of “hi-ya!” every time she struck the ball, made for a fairly vocal morning. The other thing that had not changed was that Azarenka still had Vesnina’s number.
She began with a very clear game plan: keep the ball away from the Russian’s forehand. And judging by the speed and the accuracy Vesnina could generate with the shot, it seemed like a sound move. But Vesnina had a cunning plan: run around the backhand at every opportunity. But it was not enough to prevent the inevitable.
Azarenka stuck with her plan, pulling Vesnina as far to the backhand side as she could and then leathering the ball into the space left behind. Once she got her serve up and running – eight aces – she never gave the world No.16 a glimmer of a chance. Vesnina had one break point but it was whipped away from her sharpish.
Last summer, Vesnina made her way to the semi-finals here before running into Serena Williams and emerging with only two games to her credit. This time, running into one of the few women who regularly gave Williams trouble, she was facing a similar fate but just in an earlier round.
Which brings us back to the new trend in ladies’ tennis: mums on the road. When Williams discovered she was expecting a baby, she went round to see her friend Azarenka and peppered her with questions about motherhood and babies in general. At the time, Azarenka thought nothing of it until a couple of months later when Williams announced that she was going to become a mum.
“I always say that whenever she asks me for my opinion, I give it to her in person, and in private,” Azarenka said. “She has a little bit before.”
In return, perhaps she could ask Williams how she goes about beating Heather Watson in the third round at Wimbledon. The mighty Ms W had a titanic struggle to beat Watson two years ago at the same stage – maybe she has a few tips to offer in exchange for nappy changing and feeding suggestions.