Thursday 22 March 2018

Victoria Azarenka says she's likely to miss US Open because of custody battle with ex-boyfriend

Victoria Azarenka has not played since Wimbledon. CREDIT: EPA
Victoria Azarenka has not played since Wimbledon. CREDIT: EPA

Charlie Eccleshare

Victoria Azarenka looks set to be the latest leading player to miss the US Open after she released a statement on Thursday saying that she is unlikely to be able to travel to New York

Azarenka explained that the only way she could compete would be to leave her eight-month old son Leo in California, something she is categorically not prepared to do.

Azarenka, a two-time grand slam champion and former world No 1, is currently locked in a custody battle with Billy McKeague, her ex-boyfriend and Leo's father.

The pair split shortly after Wimbledon and Azarenka subsequently pulled out of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, and this week's tournament in Cincinnati.

Instead of competing on the court, Azarenka has spent the last few weeks engaged in a legal custody case with McKeague in California, where she has a home. The American website TMZ reported earlier this month that Azarenka had been told she could not take Leo out of California until the case was resolved.

In a statement released on Thursday, Azarenka confirmed this was the case and said: "My incredible fans and friends, who have supported me throughout my career deserve to know why I may not be able to compete at the U.S Open this year.

"The day my son Leo was born, back in December of last year, was by far the happiest day of my life. I now have a brand new appreciation for how new mothers - and fathers – juggle the many different responsibilities for their families.

"However, like most working mothers, despite my unconditional love for my son, I am faced with a difficult situation which may not allow me to return to work right away.

"In Belarus back in March, with my family in tow, I started working toward the goal of returning to the tennis tour and competing at a high level by July 31st.

"I was able to return early, playing in Mallorca mid-June followed by Wimbledon. Shortly after Wimbledon, Leo’s father and I separated and as we work to resolve some of the legal processes, the way things stand now is that the only way I can play in the US Open this year is if I leave Leo behind in California, which I’m not willing to do."

Azarenka missing the US Open would be a huge blow to the tournament, which is already missing Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, while Roger Federer and Andy Murray;s participation is in doubt due to injury concerns. 

Azarenka continued: "Balancing child care and a career is not easy for any parent, but it is a challenge I am willing to face and embrace.

"I want to support men and women everywhere who know it is ok to be a working mother - or father. No one should ever have to decide between a child and their career, we are strong enough to do both.

"I am incredibly grateful for all of the support I have received from women and men around the world who recognize the importance of supporting working moms and our right to be with our children.

"I look forward to hopefully having positive developments soon so that this difficult situation can be resolved and I can get back to competing. No parent should have to decide between their child or their career.

"I remain optimistic that in the coming days Leo’s father and I can put aside any differences and take steps in the right direction to more effectively work as a team and agree on an arrangement for all three of us to travel and for me to compete but, more importantly to ensure that Leo has a consistent presence from both of his parents."

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