The Australian Open, which begins next month in Melbourne, will award a wild card to Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1 player whose ranking has dropped to No. 210.
A two-time Australian Open women’s singles champion from Belarus, Azarenka has played only two official tournaments in the past 19 months.
Azarenka gave birth to her first child, a son named Leo, in December 2016 and returned to the circuit at a grass-court event in Mallorca, Spain, in June 2017.
She lost in the second round and then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. She has not played a tournament since then because of a legal dispute over child custody with Leo’s father, Billy McKeague. According to Azarenka, she is not allowed to travel with her son outside of California until the case is resolved.
“Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her, and we have reached out to offer any support we can,” said Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, in a statement.
It is unclear whether Azarenka would be able to travel to Australia with Leo. During her latest break from competitive tennis, she has split with her coach, Michael Joyce, and her fitness trainer, Ashcon Rezazadeh. She has yet to announce replacements. Joyce is now coaching Johanna Konta, a top-10 player.
Azarenka, 28, plans to start her 2018 season at the WTA tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, where she has accepted a wild card.
She has a protected ranking because of her maternity break and is allowed to make use of that ranking to enter two Grand Slam tournaments in a one-year period. She used the first of those entries at Wimbledon this year and then withdrew from the United States Open. Because of the Australian Open wild card, she would thus still be able to enter the French Open with her protected ranking, according to the Women’s Tennis Association.
“It’s been a tough year and being able to come back to the AO will be a really positive way to start 2018,” Azarenka said in a statement. “I’d like to thank Craig and his team for their understanding and support and can’t wait to see all my Aussie fans again.”