While Victoria Azarenka is no stranger to the brightly-colored Mylan World TeamTennis courts, she's certainly come a long way since debuting with the league eight years ago.
A year after winning two junior Grand Slam titles, Azarenka made her Mylan WTT debut in 2006 at the age of 16. Ranked outside of the top 100 and barely a year into her professional career on the WTA Tour, Azarenka posted winning records in singles and doubles for the Springfield Lasers and was honored as the league's Female Rookie of the Year. Four years later, Azarenka returned to the league as a Top 10 mainstay and featured in three matches for the Washington Kastles.
No longer a 16-year-old teenaged sensation, but now a former World No. 1 with two Australian Open titles under her belt, Azarenka was still ready when Billie Jean King came calling earlier this February.
Or in this case, e-mailing.
“Once I had an e-mail from her, it was a no-brainer,” said Azarenka before the Freedoms' home opener against the San Diego Aviators on Tuesday night. "It was yes, yes, what date? Yes. That's it.”
Despite having never suited up for the Freedoms previously in her career, Azarenka was welcomed back to the league and into The Pavilion at Villanova University with open arms on Tuesday. The Belarusian joined a Philadelphia lineup that featured Liezel Huber, Taylor Townsend, Marcelo Melo and Frank Dancevic for the match, and picked up wins in two of the three sets she competed in. She defeated Daniela Hantuchova in women's singles, 5-3, before partnering with Melo to clinch the mixed doubles by the same score and lead the Freedoms to a 19-18 match win.
“I was trying to stay in the moment. Here, everything counts,” Azarenka said. “So it's a lot of pressure but I love it. It was amazing tonight.”
Although she couldn't have foreseen how her 2014 season has played out to this point, Azarenka spoke candidly about her return to Mylan WTT and her continued comeback from a lingering foot injury.
“I feel good about starting this process,” she said, regarding her return to competitive tennis. “The whole summer I'm very excited about. I don't look so much further than this moment right now. I push myself to do the best I can do in this particular moment.”
Reflecting on how far she's come in her career since her Mylan WTT debut, Azarenka said that she always enjoys the team atmosphere and sharing experiences with teammates, including the 18-year-old Townsend.
“She's awesome. She's such a great girl,” Azarenka said in her appraisal of the American.
"I wasn't giving advice as much as sharing experiences,” she added. “The most important thing...is to enjoy it, have fun. The whole thing is cool. [Mylan WTT] is a different experience for me. I haven't had that experience in a few years.”