Former world number one and US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka is set to take part in her first Grand Slam appearance since 2013 today after being forced to withdraw from tournaments amid a bitter custody battle over her son.
The former women’s tennis world number one, 31, from Belarus, took time away from tennis to give birth to her son Leo in December 2016, but she went on to split from his father Billy McKeague in August 2017 leading to a lengthy custody battle.
She was forced to withdraw from from the remaining tournaments that year, explaining in April 2018: ‘I wouldn’t wish that on anybody to go through what I’ve been going through.’
Today, reports suggest that she finally won the custody battle, and was living with her son during lockdown and the subsequent suspension of the WTA Tour.
Former world number one and US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka, 31, from Belarus, is set to take part in her first Grand Slam appearance since 2013 today after being forced to withdraw from tournaments amid a bitter custody battle over her son
Billy is the son of Chase McKeague and Lynn McKeague, and currently lives in St. Louis.
After studying at University of Missouri, he went on to earn a job as a golf pro in Hawaii where he met Victoria.
The couple began dating before Victoria bought a home in Manhatten beach, California, where they moved in.
She gave birth to their son in December 2016, before they sadly split after Wimbledon in 2017.
After Wimbledon 2017, Victoria split from her boyfriend Billy McKeague, and in August a custody battle over their son Leo (pictured) began
While the proceedings were supposed to be resolved in 2017, Victoria and Billy were unable to agree on custody terms and quickly became trapped in a bitter custody battle.
As a non-American, it was initially ruled that she could not take her son out of California, so she chose to withdraw from the tournaments so she could stay with Leo.
She wrote in 2017: ‘As we work to resolve some of the legal processes, the way things stand now is that the only way I can play in the US Open this year is if I leave Leo behind in California, which I’m not willing to do.’
At the beginning of 2018, it was reported that Azarenka had won an early round of the U.S. custody proceedings, with a LA judged ruling that the case should take place in Belarus, rather than Los Angeles county.
The tennis player split from her boyfriend and father of Leo in 2017, with the pair becoming trapped in a bitter custody battle for several years
Speaking ahead of returning to the tour in April 2018, Azarenka said: ‘I wouldn’t wish that on anybody to go through what I’ve been going through, but it’s part of life and there are blessings in this situation as well for me.
‘I’m free but it’s definitely been and still is a really difficult situation to be in and it’s hard to only focus on playing tennis.’
She continued: ‘One day I’ll write a book about this, because it’s Hollywood-worthy for sure. But right now I just want to keep it a little bit private.
‘It’s unfortunate and it’s not a great time but it’s part of life and I’m still 28 years old and recently there are number ones over 30 so I’m okay with that. I’m still young.’
Reports suggest she finally won the custody battle and has been living with Leo during the lockdown and the resulting suspension of the WTA Tour
But in 2018, California Courts of Appeal ruled that the Los Angeles County Superior Court did have jurisdiction over the child custody case, overturning the Belarus jurisdiction decision.
It has now been reported that Victoria has won the custody battle against Billy, and she has been quarantining with Leo throughout the coronavirus lockdown.
Speaking to tennis.com in May, she said that during this time she has found her son also has a competitive streak.
She explained: ‘He always wants to win everything. It’s impossible to play with him if he doesn’t win. That’s been a little bit of challenge for me because I like to win as well.’
She went on to joke that it ‘drove her a little crazy’ to ‘pretend that she’s losing to him all the time.’
Victoria is believed to have won the custody battle, with the tennis player now living with her son in California
Victoria, who is currently ranked 27th in the world, said she feels mentally prepared ahead of the US open final today.
She revealed: ‘Mentally I’m in such a different place. I think seven years ago, after I won the Australian Open, and playing consistently with good results, it was kind of expected for me to be in the final.
‘I don’t think that was the case this year. But it feels more fun this year, more fulfilling, more pleasant for me. It feels nicer.’
Earlier this week, the mother-of-one hailed the women who are competing on the WTA Tour while also juggling motherhood, which includes her semi-final opponent Serena Williams.
She said: ‘There’s a lot that goes into it in terms of balancing and juggling two things.’
Victoria’s Instagram page is packed full of snaps with her young son as she enjoys motherhood, including photographs at the pool together
‘But identifying myself or other players just as mothers, I think that’s not the only thing that we are. We are also tennis players. We are also women who have dreams and goals and passions.
‘My life just began when I became a mother. I’ll say that really openly. I think to see that rise of women being able to fulfil their dreams, as well as balancing motherhood, I think they all are heroes.
‘I really, really appreciate all of them and I hope this continues to go on, where women are inspired to do what they love to do but still being able to go after what they want.’
On Thursday, Victoria came back from a one-set deficit to topple 23-time Grand Slam winner and fellow mother Serena Williams (pictured) 1-6 6-3 6-3 to win the semi final of the US open
Meanwhile, Victoria’s coach is confident ahead of US Open final, saying on that she is in top form and ready to go the distance in her first Grand Slam final in seven years.
Dorian Descloix said: ‘Physically she’s ready, to be honest. She worked a lot the last few months
‘She worked every day on fitness. Even on the court we did a lot of long sessions on the court. Now she’s ready,’ he said.