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Beyond the Baseline

Injury-plagued Victoria Azarenka tempers expectations at Indian Wells

Victoria Azarenka is looking forward to taking the court again following a foot injury. (Ella Ling/BPI/Icon SMI Victoria Azarenka is looking forward to taking the court again following a foot injury. (Ella Ling/BPI/Icon SMI)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Victoria Azarenka was the epitome of calm when she sat down to speak with reporters during her pre-tournament interview at the BNP Paribas Open. When a WTA handler tried to cut off the interview, she quickly brushed him off and insisted she wanted to stay and talk some more.

That's a rare move from any athlete -- more time with reporters? Surely not -- but it speaks volumes about Azarenka's mindset this week. She's just happy to be in Indian Wells after a month of uncertainty because of a foot injury that put her in a walking boot for three weeks in February.

"When you hear for the first time from the doctor that you have to wear a boot for three weeks and the tournament is four-and-a-half weeks away, you're like 'OK, let's see how it goes,'" she said. "I just wanted to stay positive and do the best job as possible."

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Now ranked No. 4 after losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals and withdrawing from the tour's Middle Eastern swing, Azarenka resumed practicing again only less than a week ago, but says she still feels pain in her foot. Given her lack of preparation, her expectations in Indian Wells, where she won the title in 2012, are modest.

"I want to do the best I can," she said. "What I expect for myself is to fight for every ball. The rest is a little bit of an unknown for me right now. The first match is going to happen. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to play. The most important thing for me is that my foot feels good. The rest you can practice it, you can get better at it, and I'm not worried about it."

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Azarenka did not dismiss the idea that this may end up being a rebuilding year for her. The injuries have been coming more frequently over the last year. In addition to her current ailment, she injured her hip and knee last season at Wimbledon and had to fight through back pain at the season-ending WTA Championships. She retired from Indian Wells last year with a right-ankle injury as well. The former No. 1 blamed the lengthy tennis season for her inability to put in the work needed to get her body strong again.

"To know that there are so many things I can still improve, and I have to adjust still, it's a growing process," she said. "Still being able to be No. 1 and winning Grand Slams without reaching your full ability or potential is great. The process is long. The problem in tennis is you don't have time to work. You have no offseason to rest. We don't have a full offseason like some [athletes] who have three or four months to rebuild your body, because it's such a demanding sport. So you have to go and work through. That's why in tennis some players have an off year or two off years or they take a break and sometimes you can't afford that. This combination of things you just have to work through them."

Azarenka is taking all her injury speed bumps in stride, reminding herself (and reporters) that she's still just 24 and has a lot of tennis in her.

"As long as I trust in what I do, as long as I believe in what I do is right for me," she said, "I won't be worried about my results or how I play because I will never forget how to play tennis."

Azarenka has a first-round bye. She opens against Lauren Davis, who defeated Chan Yung-Jan 6-4, 6-3 in the first round.

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