Victoria Azarenka danced onto the Stadium 1 court on Thursday night, performing a pirouette upon emerging from the tunnel and seemingly celebrating the second half of a mom’s night doubleheader.
It turned out to be considerably more arduous for Azarenka to get past her first-round match than it was for Serena Williams earlier in the evening. But when it was over an hour and 43 minutes later, a tearful Azarenka had, like Williams, made her comeback a victorious one with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Heather Watson.
Azarenka was returning to the tour for the first time since a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon last summer. A custody battle over her son, Leo, born in December 2016, kept her off the court. Williams is also embracing a comeback after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia in September.
“It was such an amazing day,” Azarenka said. “A player like Serena, I’m so happy to see her. We all support each other and I think it’s very important to stay strong together. We are competitors on the court, but off the court, it’s a different story.”
Azarenka answered a Watson service break with a break of her own to take the first set. Things got even stickier in a second set that included an 18-minute game.
“It was definitely tough, especially in moments like this when I’ve been out of the game for a while,” Azarenka said. “So to find that feeling and know what to do in the right moments is always tricky and I definitely have quite a few things to work on, but I was happy I was able to be strong. There were some moments when I lost my concentration for not playing for so long, but this was a pretty good start.”
Next up for Azarenka is reigning US Open champ Sloane Stephens. Like Williams, Azarenka is a two-time winner of the BNP Paribas Open, which she won in 2012 and 2016.