Australian Open 2023 | Victoria Azarenka mum to son Leo, semi-final vs Elena Rybakina

Alicia Molik was a tennis star before she became a mum and can’t imagine combining the two roles, never mind doing it as successfully as tennis’ supermum Victoria Azaranka.

The two-time Australian Open champion will take the court on Thursday night against Elena Rybakina with a huge chance of winning her way to Saturday night’s final – a decider in which she could make history in a number of ways.

Should she win the tournament, Azarenka will join a club with just three women in it – the mothers who have won a grand slam singles title – which is currently occupied by Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and most recently Kim Clijsters.

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She would also set a new mark for the biggest gap between major titles in the open era, having not tasted grand slam success since her back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013. That 10-year gap would smash the current Open era record set by Virginia Wade, who had a five-and-a-half year gap between slams when she won Wimbledon in 1977.

Just having a realistic chance to achieve those extraordinary feats of human achievement is something special, yet perhaps even more extraordinary is Molik’s claim that she’s a better player now than she was when she was arguably the best player in the world in 2012 and 2013, before she gave birth to son Leo in December 2016.

“I think she’s playing better than when she won her couple of titles here at the Australian Open,” Molik told Wide World of Sports’ The Morning Serve.

“She’s playing for more, we all know now she’s a mother and the appreciation too, I think when you’re out of the game, and she’s been out with a couple of injuries in the past, but for a longer period of time through the birth of her son, and raising a young family, and I think she’s embracing every moment that she has on center court.

“She’s beefed up her game, that’s the biggest difference I saw with her, she’s put in a big pre-season because there’s no question she’s getting a lot more on the ball than in any other year.

“She’s playing more aggressively and what a match it was against her great mate in Jessica Pegula [in their quarter final] and she really did dispose of her quite comfortably.”

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Already Azarenka has had a fine second phase of her career. She took time away from tennis when she gave birth to Leo and was unable to return full-time to the WTA tour until 2018, after a messy split with Leo’s father Billy McKeague led to a protracted custody battle.

By 2019 she had returned to the world’s top 50 and made a run to the US Open doubles final in combination with Aussie Ash Barty.

And the comeback was complete in 2020, when she broke back into the world’s top 15 and took the first set off Naomi Osaka in the US Open women’s singles final, before falling to the Japanese superstar 1-6, 6-3, 6- 3.

Now, at the age of 33, Azarenka is in a strong position to go one better, and elevate her legacy as a three-time major winner – likely trumping her previous major wins if only for the fact that she’d be doing it in front of her six-year-old son.

Molik said the example she was setting would give young girls who want to play tennis a great role model for what their life as professional tennis players could look like.

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“It’s the norm now and there are a lot more players, which, how wonderful, for women, for young girls to know that you can combine family and top level sport,” Molik said.

“And in a way I really do think that players who now have children, it keeps them level. It perhaps takes some of the limelight off some of the tough losses in sport because there’s always something to occupy your mind, but for Victoria Azarenka, quite remarkable that she’s back and better than ever.”

Molik added that being a mother may have actually helped Azarenka’s tennis, due to the fact that it offered her perspective and ensured her mind was on other things apart from the sport when she was away from the court.

“You’ve got clothes to wash, you’ve got bedtime stories to read, you’ve got to keep the kids entertained, you’ve got to get dinner ready, you’ve got to think about breakfast,” she said .

“All the things and distractions, and that’s the fine balance for tennis players, they need to be in the moment, they need to be revved up for their matches, but there’s a balance of having relax and unwind time and taking your mind off the game.

“But what a competitor she is and she’s never lost that, Victoria Azarenka. So phenomenal performance for her so far to get to the semis, she’s just getting started.”

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