Azarenka returns to Oz (Photo gallery)

MELBOURNE, Australia – Can it really be three years since former No. 1 – and back-to-back Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013 – Victoria Azarenka played the tournament?

Time flies. And a whole lot has changed in Azarenka’s life since then. That includes the fact that she now has a son, Leo, who turned two last month.

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But there is one thing that is the same: Wim Fissette is holding the coaching reins, having returned last fall.

Fissette coached Azarenka in 2015 through to when she left the tour because of her pregnancy.

He was a timely add back then, fortunately available as Azarenka’s longtime coach Sam Sumyk had just jumped ship to work with Genie Bouchard.  That wasn’t a move that worked out very well.

Here’s what they looked like on court earlier this week.

Big Sascha moved on to Osaka

One thing that’s quite different (in addition to the fact that this year’s Nike gear isn’t nearly as bright and shiny as it was back in 2016) is that Sascha Bajin is no longer on board.

Bajin, the longtime hitting partner of Serena Williams, worked with a few players in that capacity before signing on as the coach of Naomi Osaka.

That one has worked out VERY well so far.

(It also appears that Fissette has worked out his own sweet deal with Lacoste. Typically, coaches will get clothes from the company that sponsors their player. But the Dutchman was sporting some very new-looking crocodile wear on the practice court).

Tough first round in Brisbane

Ranked No. 52, Azarenka ended her 2018 season in September. And she’s had plenty to deal with off the court in the ongoing custody matter with ex-boyfriend Billy McKeague.

Azarenka has setback in L.A. courts

She did most of her offseason training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Azarenka played Brisbane. But the draw gods were unkind both to her, and to the tournament.

Unseeded, Azarenka lost in three sets to No. 6 Venus Williams in the first round.

She finds herself unseeded at the Australian Open as well.

Azarenka drew the feisty German Laura Siegemund in the first round in Melbourne on Tuesday. And if she wins that, she finds herself with a very doable second round and then, a possible third round match against Osaka – and Bajin.

In 2015, Azarenka also had ended her season early. But she traveled Down Under early in 2016, won the Brisbane event over Angelique Kerber in the final – and lost to eventual champion Kerber in the quarterfinals of the big dance.

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