Victoria Azarenka talks to the media before the start of The Championships
Q. How does it feel to be back at Wimbledon?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: It feels great. I didn't play last year, so it feels like it's been, you know, almost two years that I didn't play here. I always love coming here. Such a special event for any tennis player, any tennis fan.
Being back here with an extra member of my team is really special (smiling).
Q. Coming into Wimbledon, obviously a few months ago it looked like you were going to come back during the hard court season, accelerated it here. Can you talk through the decision-making process? Why did you feel you were ready to come back in?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: We started conversations really with my team. My coach, Michael, asked me one morning, he's like, Hey, I think you've been training really well. I think you'll be ready to go and play early. What do you think about starting Wimbledon, maybe a little bit earlier?
At first, I wasn't really sure if I was ready mentally, because I planned everything, tickets and stuff, how we going to travel, all the arrangements, starting in Stanford. So I thought about it for about a week, I think maybe even two. I felt like I was ready to compete. I was tired of practicing, just keep going through drills. I needed competition.
Q. Usually motherhood involves lack of sleep, which doesn't really work with tennis much. How have you been sleeping? How have you been managing that?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, a little bit both. I obviously have help. My mom is here, my boyfriend. Our nanny is not here at the moment. But, yeah, so we manage that.
Actually, I love to wake up in the middle of the night, because he wakes up hungry sometimes. But I understand that when I play it's a little bit different. I get to sleep through the night.
But the first three months was not easy. But he's a very good baby, so I don't have much to complain about.
Q. How complicated is it, though? Obviously the baby is this big but has a lot of paraphernalia, a lot of planning.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: He's actually a very good traveler. I think I stress out more because I want to make sure that everything is going great. I think I'm stressing out more than anything else around me. He is totally fine. He loves the plane.
But it is definitely a little bit more luggage. And with a stroller there, I didn't know you cannot bring your stroller out in London, so we had to carry him all through the airport for 20 minutes till you get to the customs, which was really weird.
Overall it's definitely you have to get to the airport earlier than I used to. I would just show up before the closing of check-in. Now it's in advance.
Q. What has it been like to see Petra's comeback? What do you make of what she's gone through?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I can't understand what she went through, you know, on the emotional level. I think she's such a warrior to be able to just act normal, feel normal in public. I think it's such a scary thing that happened to her.
The way she recovered from it, it's really inspiring. Just going out and playing in the French Open, a lot of people thought she may never be able to play again. So for her to come back and then win Birmingham, see her smile on the court, competing, I think just personally as a player, not as a competitor, I'm very happy for her.
Q. You spoke about travel. Are there other ways in which motherhood has changed things for you professionally? How has this changed you personally?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, the changes, it's like 180 in your mentality, your daily activities. When I go out to practice, of course I practice there. I'm present. But after that, it's all about somebody else. It's not about me any more, which in tennis is a little bit tricky.
Being in an individual sport, you have to be a little bit more selfish. So it's a little bit of a mind trick that I have to do to feel okay with taking some time for myself, not feel guilty that I don't spend my every free second with my son, which is sometimes tough.
But it also gives me I feel like a really good balance when I am done with my practice or my matches, that I'm able to shut off from tennis topic, just lose myself with my son, which was actually pretty hard thing to do before.
Q. First round you play CiCi Bellis. Your thoughts on that? She's had a fast rise, made semis in Mallorca.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: She's definitely not an easy opponent, especially in the first round. I'm here unseeded with really no ranking. I didn't really know who I'm going to play. I expect every round to be tough.
But I actually practiced with her couple of times already. I practiced with her here and in Mallorca. She's definitely a good player. At this age you have nothing to lose, just go out there with no pressure, and playing. I'm happy to play against anybody.
Q. Do you want to win Wimbledon for your child?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Both, you know, for him and for me as well.
Q. Considering you've only just come back to tennis, how much lower are your expectations than they would be otherwise for this tournament?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, my expectations for myself are always really high in terms of my effort, in terms of my preparation. Everything I can do in my power to be at my best that particular day.
In terms of results, I don't know. I never actually thought about it that much. I think it's more coming from the outside how you're going to do. But as long as I do hundred percent, give my best effort, I'm good with that.
Q. Is 100% now different than what it was back before, when you were winning the Australia? You haven't played but one tournament.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yeah, I want to think that I'm only getting better as a player. From the outside, you know, people only judge your game and everything by your results. I will need time for that.
But in terms of how I feel on the court, the way I think I got smarter as a player over the years, I think I'm a better player today than before. My hundred percent in terms of effort, I think it's more demanding now because I expect myself to be present every single moment I'm on the court. Otherwise, you know, I have another job to do. If I don't give hundred percent on the court, there's no point to do it.
Q. Purely from a physical standpoint, in terms of endurance, speed, power, how do you feel now compared to before your pregnancy?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, physical aspect, I think I improved the most in this break, let's say that way. I definitely feel fitter than I ever were before. I want to continue to go into that direction.
You know, in tennis, and in tournaments, you can feel great on the practice court, but to be able to transfer that into the match I think is a real art. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it clicks right away. You never know.
I think I'm on the right path to bringing all those components together and try to play better than I ever was before.
Q. You mentioned your coach Michael earlier. Can you talk about what it's been like working with him, what his coaching philosophy is.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: It was going really well. I think when we first met, I mean, I knew Michael from before when he worked, but I didn't really know him personally. He was always, like, you see him across on the other side. That was it. I didn't know him as a person. I didn't really know him as a player.
Once we met and start talking about tennis, what does he think I can improve, I really liked his philosophy. I told him that I don't want to come back and play just to have fun. I want to come back and make sure I get to the top level.
We share the same determination, the same goals in that aspect.
The rest, he taught me -- he's teaching me couple of things that I didn't maybe pay attention so much before, especially tactic-wise. I need to keep applying that. But we do speak the same tennis language. The rest we are very different (smiling).
Q. With the recent tragic attacks here in London, what is your overall sense of safety and security here now?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, Wimbledon has always been really good with the security. I think if it's a little bit tighter, I'm a lot for it. It's unfortunate what's happening in the world, that innocent people get hurt because of the political issues. I was very sad to hear all this news that happened in England. I always pray, you know, for the victims. My thoughts are with them.
But, yeah, I'm okay with extra security if these are the times that we're living.
Q. I don't know how much you were paying attention to what was going on on tour while you were away. As you return, does it feel like the same tour that it was 11 months ago? Does it feel like you're stepping into a different tour? What's the sense you get?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it's all the same tournament-wise. Still the same locker rooms. It's still the same matches, same scheduling. So I don't feel that much of a difference.
I definitely notice a lot of new names and a lot of new faces that I still don't really know. I'm going to, for sure, find out in the recent months or so.
But, yeah, it felt to me like I was gone for longer than a year because of the unfamiliar faces and players that I've seen.
Q. I think there's several different players that can leave this tournament No.1 in the rankings. When you first got No.1, when you won Australia the first time, there was a similar scenario. Can you take yourself back to five years ago when you did that, what you remember, if that affected you at all during the tournament, how No.1 being up for grabs on top of a Grand Slam might change the stakes?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I honestly don't really remember how I felt at that moment 'cause I don't remember a lot what happened before I gave birth to my son, honestly (smiling). I think it messes with your head in that way a little bit.
But I think it just depends on every player. You know, some people use that as a motivation. For some people it's an added pressure. It just depends on individual.
For me, it was one day at a time as I usually take it. Because if you look ahead too much, it's hard to stay present. So it depends, yeah.
Q. At the beginning of this you used the word 'special' to describe Wimbledon. Do you think of Wimbledon as being different from other tournaments, maybe even different from the other Grand Slams? If so, why?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it is different surface. It is different that you're playing in all white. So all this components that are a little bit different. I think the history always going to make it feel special. I think the Centre Court is absolutely gorgeous here. When you do walk to that court or step on it, it definitely is a special feeling.
I think every Grand Slam itself has their own charisma and their own personality, which is beautiful. Culture-wise, here in England. You can't compare it to Paris. You can't compare it to any other places.
For me, I think the history of it is very special.