By Matt Cronin
CARLSBAD, California (Reuters) - After a rough past couple of months that included a tight loss to Maria Sharapova at the French Open and an injury-enforced withdrawal from Wimbledon, world number three Victoria Azarenka enters the Southern California Open as hungry as ever.
Australian Open champion Azarenka has not played since she was forced out of Wimbledon prior to her second round match against Flavia Pennetta after falling in the first round where she injured her knee and hip.
"With that kind of fall, I'm pretty fortunate to be playing," she told Reuters while adding she had been unable to hit a ball for almost three weeks after the injury. "(But) I'm here and ready to play a tournament."
Azarenka started the year in hot form, retaining her Australian Open singles crown before she won the Doha title.
An injury at Indian Wells meant she was unable to defend her title and also forced her withdrawal from Miami and while she had a decent clay court season, she could not push past Sharapova in the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
"I would be happy if I would have won, but I wasn't so disappointed because I improved from the year before," she said.
"But results are the outcome of your work and I am more focused on my work than results."
Despite that philosophy, she is adamant she still wants to win and be challenging for grand slam titles and for the top ranking in the world.
"I'm a winner at heart and I want to the best, so I don't think I would be happy," said the Belarusian, who has won 16 career titles.
"If I think my best is 12th, 15th or 100 probably I would be happy, but I don't think it's my best to be at that level."
The 24-year-old's best was set at an early ages when she was the top junior in the world, and where she said she felt the most pressure to perform that taught her lessons on how to build her career.
"In the early stages of your career that's what you call pressure, when the bar is high and you are trying to grab it, but sometimes you can't and you need to build the stairs to be able to grab it," she said.
"I think it makes you stronger, it keep you on your toes because if it's easy, it's not fun," she said.
The top seed at the Southern California Open, Azarenka served for the match at 5-4 in the third set against Serena Williams in the final of the 2012 U.S. Open, but the American played the big points better and was able to win the match.
Azarenka said the defeat stung, but it had taught her so much as her focus now turned towards the final grand slam of the year next month in New York.
"I think that particular loss made me stronger and I learned a lot," she said.
"It showed me where I needed to get better. I wasn't 100 percent satisfied with that outcome, but the outcome wasn't that important because I knew I gave my best.
"My goal is to win the U.S. Open and that will make me happy. Until I reach that - my eyes are only on that goal."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)