This time, Victoria Azarenka might make the date.
The former No. 1 and two-time Indian Wells champion has been given a wild card into this year’s event, which takes place from March 5-18.
Azarenka has been given multiple wild cards in recent months, including into the most recent Australian Open. But because of the custody issues involving her son Leo, neither she nor her son’s father has been allowed to take him out of California.
And that’s been a deal-breaker for Azarenka, who hasn’t played since last July.
Finally comes an event in California (although she could have played the Newport Beach Challenger last week, given the same parameters).
Indian Wells is a little more than two hours by car from Azarenka’s home in Manhattan Beach.
There has also been word that Azarenka got a wild card into the tournament in Doha in two weeks. That one needs more confirmation, though, given the location. If she plays it, it will be a major indicator that things have gone her way in court.
Azarenka also has hired a new coach, longtime Sacramento State men’s coach Slava Konikov.
Konikov, a fellow Belarussian, coached the likes of Max Mirnyi, Vladimir Voltchkov and Tatiana Poutchek before taking the college job in 2005.
Here’s the press-release quote:
“I have always loved playing at Indian Wells, and I could not be more thrilled to be returning to the desert this March to compete for my third event title. Having won here twice, this tournament holds a special place in my heart and I look forward to playing in front of some of the best tennis fans in the world at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in just a few weeks.”
Eight more months away
If she does come, Azarenka will be rusty.
Not as rusty as she was after returning to the tour six months after Leo’s birth. But Azarenka has played very little tennis. And, as she deals with the complicated issue of custody, may have spent as much time in court and with her lawyer than she has ON court. She also appears to have lost a fair bit of weight.
Two years ago – before life happened – Azarenka was on a roll. She won Indian Wells in 2016, defeating Serena Williams in the final.
And then she pulled off the difficult back-to-back in Miami. Azarenka beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final as the No. 13 after upsetting No. 4 Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round, and No. 2 Angelique Kerber in the semifinals.
At that point in the season (with a win in Brisbane and a quarterfinal at the Australian Open), she was 22-2.
Her last match of the season was a third-set retirement in the first round of the French Open to Karin Knapp of Italy.
Since then, Azarenka has played just six matches over nearly two years: two in her return to the Tour on the grass in Mallorca. And four more at Wimbledon last summer, where she lost in the round of 16 to Simona Halep.
If she plays Indian Wells, it will have been nearly eight months since her last competitive match.
The most recent public development in Azarenka’s custody case came two weeks ago, when the judge in the California court ruled that the state is not the correct jurisdiction to hear it. Leo’s father, Billy McKeague, had three weeks to appeal the ruling.