World No.1 Victoria Azarenka has returned to Australia illuminated by the spotlight that comes with being the reigning Australian Open champion, but she insists her approach to this year’s tournament will not change.
"I'm here to win the tournament, not to defend really anything," said Azarenka, who crushed Maria Sharapova in the 2012 final at Melbourne Park.
"There are 128 girls, and I'm really looking forward to that challenge and that competition. The feeling I had last year, I would love to repeat that."
First, there is the Brisbane International, where the top seed has ceded favouritism to moral No.1 Serena Williams. Pat Rafter Arena was the scene of the 23-year-old's debut WTA title back in 2009, and - after a first-round bye - her current campaign will begin against German Sabine Lisicki, a 6-2, 6-4 winner on Monday against Lucie Safarova.
After clinching the year-end top spot at the WTA Championships in Istanbul in late October, Azarenka's travels took her to her first home (in Minsk, Belarus), her second (in Monte Carlo), then to Brazil for an exhibition against Williams, before an extended stay in Doha and Thailand for an exhibition against Li Na. She was training all the while.
Ready to resume, then? Absolutely.
"I feel good. I can’t wait to play," she said ahead of Tuesday’s opener.
"My off-season was great. It actually went by really quick. Normally it's a little bit more tough mentally when you have to start all over. But it was really quick and it was very enjoyable for me."
Azarenka said her preparation, generally, had not altered in the wake of her career-best season, which included six titles from nine finals, "because I don't see the point to really change something, because I've done well. That obviously helped me to achieve those wins, so I don't think I'll be changing much."
Serena Williams, her conqueror in an epic three-set US Open decider, remains the benchmark. But the feisty Belarussian does not necessarily consider herself the next great rival for the winner of 15 grand slam titles, or the one player capable of stemming the great American's dominance.
"I don't really look at it that way. I try to look at what can I do to win those titles, not to see who I can stop from winning those titles. So it's not a question," said Azarenka.
"It's really obvious that she is one of the toughest competitors for me. I don't have a great record (against Serena Williams). But this is a new year, and there are new opportunities to have.
"So the US Open was a great match. I had great things that I could take out of there. It's always a learning experience... I look towards myself more than trying to stop somebody."
Among the men, Queenslander John Millman qualified for the main draw with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat of American Donald Young, expanding the Australian presence to five. Lleyton Hewitt plays his opening match against fellow veteran Radek Stepanek on Tuesday.