Azarenka says custody dispute keeps her out of Fed Cup final

Azarenka says custody dispute keeps her out of Fed Cup final
FILE - This is a Saturday, April 2, 2016 file photo of Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, as she returns to Svetlana Kuznetsova during the women's singles final match at the Miami Open tennis tournament, in Key Biscayne, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, FILE)

By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press

Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka says she'll sit out the Fed Cup final between Belarus and the United States because of an ongoing custody dispute with her baby's father.

Azarenka tweeted about her absence from Belarus' team on Tuesday.

"It is heartbreaking for me to not have a chance to play and help Belarus in the final, but unfortunately, my current custody situation is keeping me in California," the two-time Australian Open champion wrote. "Even though I will not be in Minsk for the final, my heart is always with my country and my team and I will cheer for them from afar."

She added: "While it has been a tough year for me, I am already looking forward to 2018 and playing before my fans very soon."

The 28-year-old Azarenka gave birth to her first child last December and returned to the WTA tour in June. But she only played six matches this season and is currently ranked 208th.

She hasn't competed anywhere since Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10.

Azarenka has said that she separated from her son's father shortly after that.

She cited the custody dispute when she pulled out of the U.S. Open in August, saying then that it wasn't possible for her child to travel with her to New York for the Grand Slam tournament.

Belarus hosts the United States in the best-of-five-match final at an indoor hard court in Minsk on Saturday and Sunday.

Without Azarenka, the hosts will rely on Aryna Sabalenka, a 19-year-old ranked 78th, and Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who is ranked 87th. Belarus never has won a Fed Cup championship.

U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who is ranked 13th, leads the American team, along with No. 10 CoCo Vandeweghe, a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist. Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske are the other members of U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi's roster.

The U.S. is in its first Fed Cup final since losing to Italy in 2010. The Americans won the last of their record 17 titles in 2000.

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