INDIAN WELLS – There have been many wild cards turned back, myriad hopeful returns to action that went south for former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka since last year’s Wimbledon.
So there was every possibility her wild card into next week’s BNP Paribas Open might be one more false alarm.
Except … the tournament is in her home state of California, a couple of hours’ drive from her Los Angeles-area home.
And with the 28-year-old’s child custody battle ongoing, that made Indian Wells different from, say, last month in Doha.
And so, on a cool Saturday morning in the desert, there she was, on the practice court, looking slim and hitting the ball a ton.
It was more than a little amusing that Azarenka’s first practice partner was her countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka.
Why? Because in Azarenka’s absence, Sabalenka has not only emerged as a player rising in the rankings, but also one of the loudest players out there.
The practice match the two played Saturday was a first opportunity to gauge exactly how loud Sabalenka is, versus the memory of how loud we remembered Azarenka to be.
It was no contest: Sabalenka in straight sets (the noise match, not the actual match)
Here’s what it sounded like.
Azarenka had a full crew with her. And she looked as though she had never been away.
Her service motion looked good. She seemed to be moving all right.
That she had to watch a few missle-like Sabalenka winners scream by her uncontested does not make her unique in recent months.
Women’s tennis will be the better for a full-time return from the two-time Grand Slam champion.
A good draw would definitely help matters. And, hopefully, it won’t be a one-off with Azarenka going back off the grid after the tournament.