New York: Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is ready to put a season of injury behind her, and where better to start than the US Open.
Azarenka was a finalist at Flushing Meadows the past two years, falling both times to Serena Williams.
But the Belarusian`s 16th seeding this year is the lowest it`s ever been at the tournament -- a sign of the struggles with foot and knee injuries that have cost her much of the season.
She`s through to the third round however, following up a scrappy three-set win over Japan`s Misaki Doi with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 44th-ranked American Christina McHale.
Azarenka said it was a toss-up as to whether it`s better to be tested in the early rounds, or conserve energy with easy wins.
"I think it`s a matter of trying to make the best out of every day and try to improve," she said. "To play easier or tougher match, sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn`t.
"In terms of physical condition, I feel fine. I don`t care how long I need to play. I`ll be ready for the next match."
Despite the scoreline, Azarenka had her troubles against McHale.
After losing the first three games she won nine on the trot to take control, but she wasted a match-point as she tried to serve it out at 5-1 in the second.
After dropping her serve, she broke McHale in the next game, sealing the win with a forehand winner.
"I think she started really well," Azarenka said. "I felt like I was watching too much and not aggressive enough. But she really picked her targets and went for her shots."
After adjusting to the blustery winds in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Azarenka began to impose her game.
"In the next match I`ve got to be able to do that earlier," she said, looking ahead to a third-round meeting with Russian Elena Vesnina.
Azarenka, Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, has fallen out of the top 10 for the first time since September of 2010.
Now ranked 17th, she`s even in danger of slipping out of the top 20 for the first time since 2008, unless she reaches the semi-finals in New York.
But the 25-year-old is tired of talking about her fitness and her frustrations.
"I just want to talk about the positive things and what I got out of that (injury absence)," she said.
One unlikely positive?
"I had no idea how to spread my toes," she said, adding that when she mastered the move that should help protect her feet "I went running like crazy down the hallway at my physio`s office.
"We even opened a bottle of champagne for that," she added.
The enforced absence also let her "take a step back" and think about her long-term goals. One thing she realized, her love for tennis remains strong.
"Not knowing when I would be able to play, that was the hardest part," Azarenka said.