Former world number one Victoria Azarenka was afraid becoming pregnant in 2016 would end her tennis career, but says she returned to the game stronger after the birth of her son.
The two-times Grand Slam champion was ranked sixth in the world when she left the WTA tour in July 2016 and returned to the circuit in June the following year.
“I was scared, it wasn’t easy,” Azarenka told the BBC. “I knew I was going to come back but my first thought was, ‘Oh my god I’m never going to play tennis again.’
“But then it was all about knowing I was going to come back, and when I was going to come back. I felt it was a blessing, but I still wanted to have my own dreams and my own career.
“I’m sure a lot of women won’t be able to relate to me but I felt so much better after the pregnancy. I felt so much stronger physically, and my body became so much better. I felt like my body finally matured into being a woman.”
Azarenka and Serena Williams, who became a mother in 2017, are part of a group of players who campaigned for players going on maternity leave to have their rankings protected so they did not struggle on their return.
The WTA changed its rules ahead of the 2019 season, granting new mothers the right to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year period with their previous ranking to avoid meeting a seeded opponent in the first round.
“We have the power to change the rules and we have done,” the 29-year-old Belarusian added. “I think that’s what I want my legacy to be, that I’m fighting for women to be more comfortable, to break those stereotypes and move the needle a little forward.
“That evolution is going to continue to break boundaries and the illusion of women in sport.”