BRISBANE: Victoria Azarenka thinks her rivalry with Serena Williams is making her a better player and is looking forward to renewing it over the next four weeks at the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.
World number two behind the 17-times major champion, Azarenka will only meet Williams if both players make the final at the Pat Rafter arena next weekend and Melbourne Park on Jan 25.
The Belarussian, who has won the Australian Open for the last two years, has a 3-13 record against Williams but split last year's four matches and beat the American 7-5 6-3 in an exhibition match in Thailand at the weekend.
"I think it's great, first of all, to be a part of that rivalry because it really helps you to grow as a player, as a person," the 24-year-old told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.
"You learn things about yourself and what you need to improve, because when somebody is taking you to the limit you really have a good look at what you have to do better to rise up.
"I definitely enjoy that and love tough competition. To take that challenge for me every time is very exciting. That's what I wake up for and train hard for."
Azarenka avoided Williams altogether in Australia last year, firstly in bizarre circumstances in Brisbane when she was forced to withdraw from their semi-final meeting after a pedicure went wrong.
They were again scheduled to meet in the last four in Melbourne before an injury-hampered Williams lost her quarter-final to compatriot Sloane Stephens.
Azarenka's subsequent victory over Stephens in the semi-finals, when she took a controversial 10-minute medical time out, means she has of lot of goodwill to win back in Australia over the next month.
"Every year I look so much forward to coming here," she said, apparently unperturbed. "It's one of my favorite places to play. I've loved it since I was a junior."
Second seed Azarenka will open her new season in the second round of the Brisbane International against local wild card Casey Dellacqua, who beat Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the first round on Monday.