Australian Open champion Azarenka coy on Williams rivalry

Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:06pm EST
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka is relishing her return to Melbourne Park as double defending champion and while Serena Williams is a hot favorite to deny her a hat-trick of titles, the Belarusian says she will not focus solely on the challenge from the world number one.

Azarenka's two grand slam titles have both been achieved without facing the American, who was eliminated in both those tournaments after being hobbled by foot injuries.

As second seed on the lower half of the draw, Azarenka would not meet Williams until the final but the 24-year-old was reluctant to talk up their grand slam rivalry, which has her on the wrong side of an 8-0 head-to-head record.

When asked by reporters on Sunday if Williams was the player to beat in Melbourne, Azarenka responded: "Well, if you meet her, yes.

"But I think everybody is the one to beat here. We have such a high competition right now.

"You always have to look for every opponent you play. You cannot look past anybody because everybody is prepared, everybody wants it badly.

"(Regarding) her last season, of course, everybody will be motivated to beat her."

Azarenka controversially avoided Williams in the leadup to last year's tournament when she pulled out of their match at the Brisbane International citing an infected toenail from a bad pedicure.   Continued...

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a ball with an oversized tennis racquet during the Kids Tennis Day before the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 11, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray