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Azarenka relying on French connections
Darren Walton
15:28 AEST Sun May 27 2012

World No.1 Victoria Azarenka will rely on basic instincts and a firm French connection as she strives to finally solve her Roland Garros riddle and land back-to-back grand slam titles.

Azarenka's 11 wins in six visits to Paris is her worst return at the four annual majors, but the Australian Open champion believes she's developed her game to the point where she's ready to conquer clay.

"Really, I actually really like clay," Azarenka said ahead of her first-round French Open clash on Monday with Italian Alberta Brianti.

"I mean, it's different game, it's different a little bit in style, but I still have the same intentions as when I play on the hard court.

"Before it was because it was too slippery. Now I feel really good on the normal clay.

"I'm still playing my game that I do on hard court with a few adjustments.

"Of course the points are a little bit longer here and you have to be kind of a little bit more patient, but I think the courts are becoming faster.

"The game is becoming faster, even on clay.

"So I just always try to stick to my natural game."

The Belarusian has enjoyed a fruitful two-year union with French coach Sam Sumyk and physio Jean Piere Bruyere and, last month, added a more famous French ally to her team in former world No.1 Amelie Mauresmo.

"I'm glad to have her on board," Azarenka said.

"She has a lot of experience to share not only on court, but off court how to manage a little bit and how to pace yourself and stuff.

"Plus she can give me advice how to handle yourself during matches because she's been on the big stages, as I have been already, too.

"But it's good to see somebody else's opinion sometimes. She likes to talk and I like to listen."

Azarenka, who started the year with 26 consecutive wins and four titles, had to withdraw from her third-round match last week in Rome with a sore shoulder, no doubt the painful legacy of her early-season successes and workload.

But the top seed is feeling good to go again.

"I came here early. I have been working really hard to feel healthy. I feel much better," she said.

"I'm excited to start the tournament."

With a dominant 6-0 head-to-head record against Samantha Stosur, Azarenka looms as a major quarter-final obstacle for Australia's sixth seed in a relatively soft side of the draw.

The bottom section features joint title favourites Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, defending champion Li Na and Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.

Aside from Azarenka, other leading contenders in Stosur's half in action on Monday include Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska against Serb Bojana Jovanovski and French eighth seed Marion Bartoli against Czech qualifier Karolina Pliskova.


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