Victoria Azarenka believes she is in the best shape in three years as she kicked off her season at the Brisbane International

Azarenka feeling fit as Sharapova, Halep withdraw



Originally published on 05/01/16 00:00

The former world No.1, who defeated Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-0 on Monday, slipped outside the world’s top 30 in 2014 as she battled with foot and knee injuries after winning the 2013 Australian Open. And after nearly three years of battling with her fitness, the world No.22 believes she is back on track.

“It’s definitely a lot better than the last three years I would say,” Azarenka said of her fitness after her first-round win. “There’s always a little bit of an adjustment of the match play, reaction and rustiness but it’s a good start. Let’s see where it takes me.

"I was happy to be on the court. It's been a while since I've been out there playing an actual match. It's been a lot of practice, so I was just happy to go out there and play and be in front of the crowd and just compete. So I was happy to be able to do that and play well."

Azarenka’s win had set up a blockbuster second-round clash with top seed Simona Halep in Queensland, but the world No.2 was forced to withdraw with an Achilles injury on Tuesday. Azarenka will now face lucky loser Ysaline Bonaventure for a place in the quarter-finals.

"I had problems with my Achilles in August and September, and then I didn't feel it anymore, but now I've already had a couple of weeks again with the pain," said Halep, who hopes to play at next week’s Sydney International. "I thought I'd be ready to play here, to start the year here in Brisbane, but I don't think that I can play a full match. I think it's more important to be ready and take a little bit of a break."

Meanwhile, defending champion Maria Sharapova also withdrew on Tuesday just hours ahead of her second-round match against compatriot Ekaterina Makarova. Sharapova was replaced in the draw by another Russian, lucky loser Margarita Gasparyan.

"I hurt my forearm in practice a couple of days ago and need to precautionarily withdraw with the Australian Open starting in just a matter of time," Sharapova said. "This is such a special event for me, especially being the defending champion. I look forward to seeing all my fans in Brisbane next year."


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