HUA HIN, Thailand – World number two Victoria Azarenka said Friday she was battling to get her fitness back on track after a disappointing 2013 as she prepared to face world number one Serena Williams in Thailand.
“Last year I had some difficulties but now I am working hard to keep up my fitness,” the Belarusian 24-year-old said before the exhibition match.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion who ended 2013 with just three titles, said she was hoping for a victory in the Land of Smiles to bring her good luck again in Melbourne.
“I won this exhibition match for two consecutive years and went on to win the Australian Open which is very good,” she told reporters in the seaside resort of Hua Hin.
The two players, who were also due to hit the catwalk for a special fashion show, appeared unfazed by recent deadly political violence which has shaken the capital Bangkok.
Asked about the unrest, Azarenka said: “I came here to play tennis and I only wanted to focus on tennis. I wanted to make the people happy and entertain them.”
Williams, 32, ended 2013 with 11 titles while triumphs at the French and US Opens took her Grand Slam haul to 17.
She enjoyed a match record of 78 wins against just four defeats, claimed the season-ending WTA Championships title and became the oldest number one player.
Asked what would be her next challenge, Williams said: “I just want to enjoy playing tennis. For me, it is the challenge everyday. I enjoy playing tennis and am happy to play.”
Azarenka has won just three of her 16 meetings against Williams, although she split their four clashes in 2013 and for a second successive season took her great rival to three sets in the US Open final.
It was mostly a year to forget for the Belarusian former number one who limped out of Wimbledon in the early stages with a knee injury.
She failed to reach the WTA Championships semi-finals in Turkey in October as she battled a lower back injury and a month earlier she crashed out of the China Open in the first round.
Azarenka will start her 2014 season with a return to Brisbane where she was forced to withdraw from the semi-finals a year earlier due to a toe infection on her right foot.
But she went on to win the Australian Open later that month for a second straight year — one of her few highlights of 2013.