Azarenka embraces tough Brisbane test

Simply returning to the court again has been rated a victory by injury-plagued former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka.

But it’ll take more than just turning up to pass her toughest test yet since finally overcoming two years of fitness dramas.

And it seems the two-time grand slam winner wouldn’t have it any other way as she plans her Australian Open assault.

World No.22 Azarenka said she had not felt better since her 2013 heyday after overcoming Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-0 in the Brisbane International first round on Monday night.

And perhaps that’s for the best – the 26-year-old Azarenka has booked a second round showdown with top seed Simona Halep.

Taking on the world No.2 will provide a timely gauge for the rejuvenated Azarenka after blowing off the cobwebs with the straight sets opening round win – her first match since September.

Foot and thigh injuries have derailed Azarenka’s last two seasons.

“I was happy to be on the court. It’s been a while … playing an actual match,” the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champ said.

“It’s been a lot of practice so I was just happy to go out there and play and be in front of the crowd and just compete.”

Despite her comeback’s early stage, Azarenka relished the prospect of taking on former French Open finalist Halep ahead of the Australian Open.

“I think it’s going to be a very good test,” she said.

“Playing against top players you always put yourself in a situation where you have to push yourself.

“And to play early in the year, it’s great.

“To be the best, you got to beat the best, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Azarenka showed plenty of rust but still did enough to win 12 straight games against Vesnina.

Asked about her fitness, Azarenka said: “It’s definitely a lot better than the last three years I would say.

“There’s always a little bit of an adjustment of the match play, reaction and rustiness but it’s a good start.

“Let’s see where it takes me.”

Defending champion Maria Sharapova begins her tournament on Tuesday against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

And Aussie hope Sam Stosur has backed herself to overcome a wrist complaint to challenge Spanish sixth seed Carla Suarez Navarro in Tuesday night’s second round showdown.

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