May 14, 2022 10:04 am

Australian Open: Victoria Azarenka and her son Leo, the happy ending of a family battle that had kept her away from tennis

MELBOURNE.- The scene called attention to its unusualness. The Belarusian Victoria Azarenka had already swept the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina when she appeared in the press room of the Australian Open with a special guest: his son Leo. With a good sense of timing, the first question was directed at him, who kept playing with his mom’s badge, both of them hiding behind sunglasses… “Leo, how did your mom play today?” , he heard, in reference to a resounding triumph of the two-time champion of the tournament. The boy answered with a single word: “Amazing!”, He said. The comedy step generated the smile of all those present in the place, but there was more.

The 32-year-old tennis player, once ranked No. 1, feels comfortable now, playing the dual role of tennis player and mother in Melbourne. She was asked if having her son with her on tour distracted her, relaxed her, or made more demands on her. “All of the above,” he replied with a laugh.. “It’s definitely not a distraction. I would never say that. Being a mother is not easy. He has a lot of personality, I don’t know where he got it from,” he said ironically. Leo kept waving the badge, yawned at least once, and blew into the microphone to make noise. He did his own show.

He had once said that he did “daily juggling” to make his two biggest responsibilities coexist. Also, on another occasion, she confessed that an advertising contract had been canceled when she became pregnant. As if being a professional and a mother is still a problem for some companies.

A few days before, and always with his glasses, Leo had been seen throwing the racket during a break from his mother’s training, already in the facilities of the complex that hosts the tournament. But this story of smiles and jokes is the happy continuity of what was once a drama that Azarenka never hid. Precisely in Australia, four years ago, the tennis player She started to cry after his elimination in the first round of the tournament, for a reason that had nothing to do with tennis. So, she was fighting for Leo’s custody.

Victoria Azarenka and a private lesson: teaches her son how to play tennis during a practice session before the tournamentQuinn Rooney – Getty Images AsiaPac

On December 19, 2016, Azarenka gave birth to Leo, her son with Billy McKeague. But the relationship between the two ended on bad terms a few months later, and there began a fierce fight for possession of the child. He only played a couple of tournaments in 2017 (Mallorca and Wimbledon). He played a little more in 2018, but with the particularity of doing so not far from California. The reason: the Justice decided that, until the divorce proceedings were completed, little Leo Alexander should remain in Los Angeles, the city in which his parents had established their addresses.

In August 2017, Vika publicly exposed the situation. Then he said: “The day Leo was born was by far the happiest of my life (…) Shortly after Wimbledon, andLeo’s father and I parted ways and while we work to resolve some of the legal processes, the current situation is that the only way I can play is if I leave Leo in California, which I am not willing to do. Balancing child care and a career is not easy for any mother, but it is a challenge I am willing to take on.”

Azarenka and Leo, shared protagonism
Azarenka and Leo, shared protagonismDavid Mariuz – Tennis Australia

By 2018, the situation had become complex again. “I’ve been through a lot in my life and sometimes I wonder why all this is happening to me. I’m having a really bad time right now, but I think sooner or later they’ll make me stronger”, she said after that first-round loss to Germany’s Laura Siegemund. McKeague, a former hockey player engaged in real estate business of his family, had asked a judge for custody of Leo.

“I will work very hard to reverse this situation. Maybe I need a little time, patience and obviously a little support. Right now, this is the hardest fight for me,” he added at the time. Today’s scene, with Leo on his legs, the two of them playing, is also the representation that that seems to have been left far behind. Reinserted in the circuit, she travels everywhere with Leo, who You already saw her lift a title again (in Cincinnati, in 2020), after the parenthesis he had to do. Thus, it totals 21, including the two of the Australian Open already mentioned. And goes for one more…

The 24th-seeded Azarenka beat Elina Svitolina 6-0, 6-2 on Friday (15th seed). He did it with several outstanding plays and with another special weapon. “The amount of aggressiveness that I brought to every point, applying a lot of pressure, with consistency. I played really well on the break points I faced,” he said. “Yes, and I took control of my part of the court. I think that’s what makes me happiest.”

Victoria Azarenka during the match against Evina Svitolina, in Australia.
Victoria Azarenka during the match against Evina Svitolina, in Australia.Andy Brownbill – AP

Azarenka (24th) was crowned here in 2012 and 13. She has been a finalist at the US Open three times, but has not settled in the fourth round in Australia since 2016. Now, she has extended her record to 5-0 against the Ukrainian Svitolina. Since 2016, when she reached the quarterfinals in Australia, Azarenka had lost in the opening phase last year and in 2019. She missed the tournament in 2017, 18 and 20, largely due to the drama she endured.

In the next round, she will meet French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who came from behind after losing the first set and suffering a break, to beat Jelena Ostapenko (26th) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. It is the first time the Czech has advanced to the fourth round in singles at Melbourne Park.

The No. 1 in the world Ashleigh Barty beat the Italian Camila Giorgi (33rd) 6-2, 6-3 this Friday, thus qualifying for the round of 16, where she will face the American Amanda Anisimova. Giorgi “hits the ball very well and controls the center of the pitch from the baseline in a remarkable way. So the goal was to get out of that zone,” explained the 25-year-old Australian, who relied on her exceptional slice backhand and very good serve.

None of Barty’s first three opponents at this Australian Open has managed to break her serve. Barty, who was leading 3-0 in just eight minutes of the game, He ended up taking the win in 61 minutes, having made it through the first two rounds in less than an hour in each of their previous two duels.. Winner of two Grand Slam titles (Roland Garros 2019 and Wimbledon 2021), the world N.1 is pursuing her first Australian major. In 2020 he had reached the semifinals and in 2021 he fell in the quarterfinals.

In other results of the fifth day, Maria Sakkari (5th) beat Verokika Kudermetova 6-4, 6-1 to reach the fourth round, where she will face Jessica Pegula, who defeated the Spanish Nuria Parizzas Díaz by 7- 6(3), 6-2. Another Spaniard, Paula Badosa (8th) advanced with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win over Marta Kostyuk.

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