Vika, Leo and Yonex triple-team Wimby

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WIMBLEDON – The deal was only officially announced Sunday.

So the returning Victoria Azarenka jumped the gun a little when she appeared on the practice courts at Wimbledon Saturday with her new, non-generic, officially stenciled Yonex racquet.

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After many years with Wilson, the 27-year-old has made the switch.

Here’s the official quote from the announcement:

“I really feel I haven’t reached my full potential yet. To achieve my goals I knew I needed to change my technique, biomechanics, as well as finding the perfect racquet to support my game. So I took the opportunity before returning to search for something with more power and control,” the statement says. “The square-shaped Yonex ISOMETRIC racquets are actually very familiar to me.”

Azarenka played with Yonex as a junior. Her new coach, Michael Joyce, played with Yonex during his career, and still does.

Here’s what it looked like for her first tournament back in Mallorca, where she returned to action after 13 months away during a maternity leave.

In Mallorca, Azarenka used a generic-looking racquet, even if everyone who paid attention pretty much knew it was a Yonex. What else did she get in Mallorca? Chicken pox. Seriously.

Here’s what it looked like on Court 18 on Saturday – a sneak preview, as it turned out.

We’re told the racquet was made just for her, and is similar to the EZone Nick Kyrgios plays with. For now, it’s black – but that’s only because she returned ahead of schedule.

By the time Azarenka gets to Stanford, Calif., which is where she had originally planned her return, it will have new specs.

The new mom might not even remember what racquet she played with before. Because the stick switch is far from the biggest change on her life.

She joked in her press conference Saturday that she couldn’t remember much about what happened before she gave birth to her son, Leo.

“I think it messes with your head in that way a little bit,” she said, smiling.

100 per cent effort, or forget it

One thing she hasn’t forgotten is how to compete. The difference for Azarenka now is that she feels she owes it to herself to give it 100 per cent, every match, every day, every point.

“My 100 per cent in terms of effort, I think it’s more demanding now because I expect myself to be present every single moment I’m on the court. Otherwise, you know, I have another job to do. If I don’t give 100 per cent on the court, there’s no point to do it,” she said. 

“Being in an individual sport, you have to be a little bit more selfish. So it’s a little bit of a mind trick that I have to do to feel okay with taking some time for myself, not feel guilty that I don’t spend my every free second with my son, which is sometimes tough,” she added.

As for how quickly she can get back to winning big matches, she says there’s no formula. She feels as fit as she has ever been (and live, up close, it’s incredible how lean and fit she looks). But transferring all that effort since she returned to the practice court into match play is an uncertainty.

“In tennis, and in tournaments, you can feel great on the practice court, but to be able to transfer that into the match I think is a real art. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it clicks right away. You never know,” she said. “I think I’m on the right path to bringing all those components together and try to play better than I ever was before.”

New coach, fresh start

Azarenka didn’t know new coach Michael Joyce personally before they began working together. She knew him only in the role of the opposing coach. For many years, that oppponent was rival Maria Sharapova.

“Once we met and start talking about tennis, what does he think I can improve, I really liked his philosophy. I told him that I don’t want to come back and play just to have fun. I want to come back and make sure I get to the top level. We share the same determination, the same goals in that aspect,” Azarenka said. 

“He’s teaching me couple of things that I didn’t maybe pay attention so much before, especially tactics-wise. I need to keep applying that.”

Azarenka’s mother and boyfriend are here at Wimbledon with her. Their nanny is not. But she’s got enough man (and woman) power to make sure little Leo is well taken care of.

The traveling was a piece of cake for Leo, Azarenka said. For her, it was a whole new exercise in logistics. She had begun making travel arrangements for the family with a mind to starting back in Stanford.

So when Joyce suggested she should consider coming back earlier, it was the sheer logistics of it, as much as the tennis, that had her hesitating for a little bit.

“I thought about it for about a week, maybe even two. I felt like I was ready to compete. And I was tired of practicing, just keep going through drills. I needed competition,” she said. “He’s actually a very good traveler. I think I stress out more because I want to make sure that everything is going great. I think I’m stressing out more than anything else around me. He is totally fine. He loves the plane.

“But it is definitely a little bit more luggage,” she added. “And overall it’s definitely you have to get to the airport earlier than I used to. I would just show up before the closing of check-in.

“Now, it’s in advance.”

Azarenka has a tough first-round match against California teenager CiCi Bellis on Monday. She has practiced with her, both in Mallorca and here at Wimbledon – it’s amazing how often that happens, that players practice together and then draw each other. But she has never faced her on the match court.

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