Victoria Azarenka shouldn’t be at Wimbledon. She shouldn’t have won a tricky first round match and then suddenly pummeled Elena Vesnina, one of last year’s semifinalists, in the second round. Azarenka has a 6-month-old son and hasn’t played Grand Slam tennis since last year’s French Open. Before this tournament, she played a mere two matches in a grass-court event. Yet somehow, she ‘s not only winning, but looking like maybe—just maybe—she could defy odds and take the title.
At Wimbledon on Wednesday, Azarenka beat Vesnina, 6-3, 6-3. Vesnina, age 30, made the Wimbledon semifinals last year and has solid strokes. Earlier this year she won an Indian Wells tournament, which included victories against top players Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber, and Venus Williams. Azarenka, who has won the Australian Open twice and has been ranked number one, did not care.
“After the first set of my first match I kind of just relaxed and started to play a little bit my game and not worry too much of the result,” Azarenka said.
Relaxed but still intense, as Vesnina discovered. Azarenka, who will turn 28 at the end of July, made few mistakes and struck many clean forehands. This is no surprise: She ‘s one of the most aggressive and relentless women on the tour. Yet she ‘s also not afraid to change.
Known primarily for her flat, fast groundstrokes (and also for her loud shrieks) Azarenka has developed a nice touch at the net by playing a lot of doubles. And her time off from the tour has given her a chance to adjust her serve. So far, so good: On Wednesday she saved the only break point she faced, hit 8 aces, and won 87 percent of her first serves. Overall she hit 22 winners against just 11 errors.
Azarenka’s son, Leo, and her boyfriend, Billy McKeague, are both at Wimbledon, but this is not a vacation. With the help of coach Michael Joyce, once a coach of Maria Sharapova, Azarenka is there to win. And despite her pregnancy and time off, Azarenka believes she’s in better shape than ever before, a seemingly no-way-on-Earth feat—until you hear her talk.
“It is possible,” she said. “One of my biggest inspirations was Kerri Walsh that came back after three kids and still playing for [a] gold medal. Nothing is impossible. For women, that’s definitely true.”
Other mothers have bounced back in tennis, the most well known being Belgian Kim Clijsters. She won the first Grand Slam she entered after having a child, the U.S. Open in 2009. Azarenka, who has played even less than Clijsters did before the U.S. Open, is trying to outdo that accomplishment. She faces Heather Watson, a British crowd favorite, in her next match and, should she win, could then play Simona Halep, the second seed. Watson will have a big local fan base. But Azarenka has a special, tiny fan who makes her almost unique in the women’s field.
“With my kid on the tour,” she said, “I feel like I have so much more support from the outside, which is [a] great feeling.”
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard