Victoria Azarenka has missed three months with a foot injury that led to her first-round exit at the BNP Paribas Open. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
EASTBOURNE, England -- It's been three months since Victoria Azarenka has hit a tennis ball in competition, but that ends on Tuesday when she takes the court against Camila Giorgi at the Aegon International. Azarenka has been sidelined by a left foot injury since early March. She started hitting again just three to four weeks ago but she's itching to test her game and her body in a competitive match.
"I just felt that I started feeling really good on the court, playing with no pain," Azarenka told reporters. "So once I felt that I'm healthy, I started practicing and I just wanted to play. So I'm here in Eastbourne to try to test myself in competition. I have been tested in practice, but competition is a completely different thing."
Competition is something the former No. 1 hasn't had much of this season. After making the final of Brisbane and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Azarenka played just one match. That match, a straight set loss to Lauren Davis at Indian Wells, was a painful one. She fought through the match but looked physically compromised, and a few weeks later she was in a walking boot.
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"Rehabbing, staying at home, just walking with my dog and just living a normal, everyday life, which is very unnormal actually, still," Azarenka said when asked how she spent her time away. "But I had a great time. I obviously missed tennis, I missed being able to travel, to compete. I think competing is the most what I was missing."
That she's chosen to return during the grass season as opposed to her favored hard courts is a surprising one. Last year she suffered a painful fall at Wimbledon and had to withdraw from the tournament with a knee injury. When asked why she chose to return now, Azarenka shrugged and smiled. "Why not? I mean, what's more exciting than Wimbledon?"
Azarenka has slipped to No. 8 in the rankings, her lowest ranking since the spring of 2011. She has no expectations here in Eastbourne, just hope that the weather stays dry and she can get at least one match in. For now, she just has to trust that her body will hold up. "It's just I believed that all the work that I have done before that, it helped me to trust myself on the court," Azarenka said. "You'll always feel like a little bit cautious first few days, a week, but I just had to go all in and just go for it."