2-time Grand Slam champ Victoria Azarenka is fighting to make tennis the best sport for mothers: 'It's our time now'

PHOTO: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts after defeating Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia in two sets in the first round on day one of the 2018 U.S. Open in New York, Aug. 27, 2018.PlayUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters
WATCH Grand Slam champ Victoria Azarenka wants to make tennis the best sport for mothers

Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka doesn't just want to play the game -- she wants to change the game, for mothers, in the Women's Tennis Association.

PHOTO: Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, reacts to winning a point against Viktoria Kuzmova, of Slovakia, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Aug. 27, 2018, in New York. Adam Hunger/AP
Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, reacts to winning a point against Viktoria Kuzmova, of Slovakia, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Aug. 27, 2018, in New York.

Azarenka returned to the court unseeded at the 2018 US Open this week after giving birth to her son, Leo, in December 2016. She took time off from the sport while also dealing with an ongoing custody battle with her son's father.

"The perspective is different this time around, because I haven’t played so much in the past couple of years," Azarenka told "Good Morning America." "For me right now, it's about going out there and trying to do my best every day, and just try to enjoy every moment."

Once the World No. 1 in the WTA rankings, she has climbed her way to World No. 79 after a couple of years off the court.

PHOTO: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning her womens final match at the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Jan. 28, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images, FILE
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning her women's final match at the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Jan. 28, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.

"I don't try to look at what I used to do because I'm not there anymore," Azarenka said. "I don't have that luxury of the time that I used to have, so I just try to adapt and find a way of what I can do better now."

Everyone says your career is over if you want to have a family. That stereotype is broken now.

Motherhood has changed her perspective on the sport and on life.

"It used to be all about me before, and now, nothing is about me," she said. "In my mind, it's all about my child."

Protecting mothers' rankings after maternity leave


She has been one of the most vocal mothers in the WTA, alongside tennis star and new mom Serena Williams, about protecting mothers' rankings after maternity leave.

One of the biggest issues mothers in the WTA have faced in the past, Azarenka explained, has been that "there was never a distinction between an injury leading to a long-term time out and pregnancy leave."

PHOTO: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is congratulated by Serena Williams after her straight sets win in the final during day fourteen of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016 in Indian Wells, Calif. Julian Finney/Getty Images
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is congratulated by Serena Williams after her straight sets win in the final during day fourteen of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016 in Indian Wells, Calif.

"What we're trying to do is create an environment that is going to be very healthy," she said. "I want the WTA and the women's tennis tour to be a pioneer in having excellent maternity leave and policies that our athletes feel comfortable with taking their time and starting a family."

Azarenka returned from maternity leave in 2017 and entered Wimbledon that year using her Special Ranking status. The WTA safeguards a player's ranking the day she stops playing to use for tournaments after returning to competition. Williams also entered the French Open using her No. 1 Special Ranking. This Special Ranking can be used for entry into competition, but does not apply to seeding. As a member of the WTA panel, Azarenka has inspired several meetings about the seeing issue.

"I'm confident that we are going to find a really good solution," Azarenka said. "I'll be fighting for it, hard."

Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, said in a statement in June that discussions about the policy were underway with players to find "the right and balanced standard."

"We are open to making changes in the rule, based on the input received from our players," he said. "The current maternity-leave policy provides a two-year period for an athlete to return to competition by using her special ranking; her ranking on the day she stopped playing. She is then provided an additional year to enter the tournaments of her choice. This enables the WTA to guarantee returning players jobs and a three-year period of time to re-enter the workplace. ... Every voice needs to be heard and taken into account as any change would require the full consensus of our players."

On-site nurseries

Another major change Azarenka is working toward implementing in the WTA is the establishment of on-site nurseries for mothers who bring their children on tour.

"It's really important to build these nurseries, because we have the resources for it," Azarenka said. "Maybe there wasn't so much a need for them as there is now. I think the tendency will be to bring even more children on tour."

Bigger tournaments like Wimbledon have established on-site nurseries, which have proven to be great additions for not just the mothers, but for their children as well.

Azarenka shared that her son loved playing in the nursery at Wimbledon, making friends with others like Serena Williams' daughter, Alexis Olympia.

"I was just joking that hopefully the U.S. Open would donate one of the stadiums to get a nursery if we're gonna have more kids traveling on the tour," Azarenka said.

When she's not focusing on the game, Azarenka is cherishing every moment she has with Leo. Hearing his laugh is her "favorite thing."

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A post shared by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on May 13, 2018 at 12:28pm PDT

Despite the additional pressures put on female athletes, Azarenka is determined to make it possible for them to have both a successful career and a happy family.

"Everyone says your career is over if you want to have a family," Azarenka told "GMA." "That stereotype is broken now. It should just be a great thing, because it’s a celebration when you have a family."

"Male players have been doing it for forever, so it's our time now."

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