The two-time Grand Slam winner and sixth-ranked women’s tennis player Victoria Azarenka is spending time in Belarus after she announced her pregnancy and a break from sport in July. Vika is coaching kids, going out to hockey games and preparing to become a mother in December.
Last week she told TUT.BY, Belarusian news website, about her pastime in Belarus, boyfriend and baby father Billy McKeague and future plans.
TUT.BY: You have been in Belarus for about two months. When did you last spent so much time at home?
So long ago, I can’t even remember. I guess, when I was 14, before I left Belarus. As a teenager I relocated to Spain to train there. For about eight months I stayed in german academy in Marbella, and then moved to the United States.
Were there any things that you’ve always wanted to do in Belarus, but did not have enough time until now?
I’ve always really wanted to travel outside of Minsk and explore Belarusian nature. We made a trip to Berezinsky biosphere reserve, and I really liked it there. I think that our nature is unique and amazingly beautiful. So many forests, fresh air!
Honestly, I would like to go to Belovezhskaya Puscha, but it is too far from Minsk.
Your boyfriend, Billy, joined you on the trip. What other places in Belarus have you taken foreigners and members of your team to during their visits to the country?
Previously, we always had a slightly different format, because we trained hard.
What we did was we showed a lot of Minsk to my team, friends and even business partners. They were amazed at how clean the city is and how friendly the people here are.
Just as with my boyfriend now, we often went out to hockey games with our guests. They said that the love of Belarusians to sports is hard to miss.
My team was pleasantly surprised at how well-equipped our sports complexes are. We visited the tennis academy, and in Center for Olympic training in Minsk, and other courts. I’d also like to mention gyms at the University (Belarusian State University of Physical Culture – note) – they have good conditions there, that foreigners did not expect to see.
We saw Billy with a racket, a soccer ball, but few expected that he will become a player of “Dragons” in the Night Hockey League. Is he good on the ice?
He used to play hockey.
You mean he wanted to be a professional player?
Yes, he was part pf his college team.
Why did he not advance?
Because of an injury.
Was it Billy’s idea to regularly visit games of HC Dinamo?
Absolutely not. I used to go to games before him. I just like this kind of sport. And I have been following hockey news ever since I was a child – since I left to the US, where I used to live at the house of Nikolai Khabibulin (Olympic champion and Stanley Cup winner – note).
The Telegraph published a list of 25 facts about Belarus. It mentioned Marc Chagall, Louis B. Mayer, Olga Korbut, Vasily Kirienko and Victoria Azarenka among famous Belarusian. Who would you add to this list?
I always find it difficult to answer when I need to mention names – I am afraid to forget someone.
I believe they could include our president to this list. And Darya Domracheva. I am not sure how famous she is in the countries that are not fond of biathlon, but people in Europe like her. Darya is a person Belarus is proud of.
In fact, we can also mention such notorious athlete as Ekaterina Karsten, the writer Svetlana Alexievich, our Nobel prize winner. In other words, our country has quite a lot of outstanding people, who were not included in the list.
But they’ve included you.
I always gladly tell people where I come from. Especially those who have never been in post-Soviet countries. Often they change their opinion about us. I’m not saying that everything is perfect here, but we certainly have reasons to be proud of ourselves.
Motherhood is a happiness for every woman. Still, your pregnancy came at a time when you have won tournaments in Indian Wells, Miami, rose in the world’s ranking and helped the national team to enter the elite of women’s tennis. Can we call a pause in your career an interrupted flight?
No, we can’t. I know what I am capable of very well, and with my injury healed and good pre-season training, I immediately started showing good results. For me, it was not something unexpected. I am still able to beat the best players and win tournaments.
Pregnancy was a surprise and joy at the same time. It also gave me an opportunity to take a break from tennis, which I have been doing for so many years. It’s nice to take a break and disconnect from everything that is going on.
Do you already know if it’s a boy or a girl?
I do, but I will not tell you that.
Sagittarius or Capricorn, does the zodiac sign of the child matter?
I don’t like making guesses, but I can say I have close frieds who are Sagittariuses. And I also get along with Capricorns.
You announced your pregnancy in July. Was it difficult to make this announcement? What were you thinking about at the time?
A non-public person does not feel the pressure that I am under. As the Olympic Games in Rio were about to start, I had to make that announcement. First of all, it was important to inform our federation and the people who counted on me to play in Brazil. And also to fans who were worried and did not know what was really going on.
You said you would be able to get back in the game by the next US Open. How real is it?
It is impossible to make predictions when you do not know what to expect in the near future. Therefore, I do not want to hurry and name any specific dates. So far, I don’t even have a plan for pre-season training. The only thing I know is that at the time when it begins, I will be on a different starting position than a year ago.
Where and what are you studying?
I’ve chosen the University of California in Los Angeles. I study economics and business law. I have five years to complete my degree. If I could study without breaks, it would take me two years only. Why do I need this? I want to understand all the processes taking place in my business.
This is a short version of the interview. The full interview (in Russian) was published on October 14.