(Reuters) - Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is enjoying her career like never before and even spending 14 days in quarantine ahead of the Australian Open has not been enough to dampen her renewed enthusiasm for the game.
Azarenka, who won both her Grand Slams at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, captured her first title since 2016 at the Western & Southern Open in August when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the final with injury.
The Belarusian was then beaten by the Japanese player in the U.S. Open final in September before she reached the Ostrava Open final in October, losing to Aryna Sabalenka.
The 31-year-old, who launched a podcast on mental health this week, said her sudden return to form had not taken her by surprise.
"It wasn't necessarily surprising for me, but I was so grateful that all of the work I'd been doing was paying off," she told Sky Sports.
"Now, it's like ... I want to do this, do that, and let me see how I can get there. The excitement level is rising and rising."
Azarenka's career has been far from plain sailing.
She was hampered by a persistent foot injury in 2014 then had a year-long maternity break in 2016-17. A split with her partner and a custody battle over son Leo that was not settled until 2018 put her career on the back burner.
But those storm clouds are now behind her.
"I can say hands down that I've never enjoyed tennis as much as I am now," she said. "I've never enjoyed my life as much as I have now. I feel like that kid who was a 10-year-old and dreamt about being on the big stages.
"That's priceless for me."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)