Victoria Azarenka: Neither a hero nor a villain – just human

Four years ago – after losing in the first round of the Australian Open, the scene of her greatest triumph – a despondent Victoria Azarenka struggled to break out of her career-threatening slump and rediscover the form that earned her two Grand Slam singles titles. vowed to achieve from in Melbourne.

After several years interrupted by injury, a break for the birth of son Leo in 2016, and a messy custody battle, she wiped away tears as she reflected on the challenge.

“Sometimes there is an incredible desire for a villain and a hero story to be written. But we are not villains, we are not heroes, we are regular human beings who go through a lot.”Victoria Azarenka

“It’s not easy to be positive, but I don’t have a choice,” said Azarenka, who was then just outside the top 50, having dropped from No. 208 in 2017 two years earlier.

She said that she maintains a burning ambition to rejoin the elite of the sport and believes that hard work is the only way to get there. ,[This result is] Ain’t gonna stop me No matter how painful it is, I have to learn from it. I’ve never really learned to fight before, so it’s a lesson.”

The Belarusian has adapted to the struggle by learning to make peace with its imperfections. And while he hasn’t tasted Grand Slam success again, the 33-year-old is in a far better place than the dark days that followed his ascent to the top.

hitting a chord

After a rich run of 10 major tournaments between 2011 and 2013 – she won two Grand Slam titles, finished runner-up twice, made the semi-finals on three other occasions and reached world No. 1 – in terms of results, Azarenka has Got the rhythm. Plagued by a foot injury as well as other troubles and dealing with personal challenges off the court, she missed eight of the next 25 major events and when she did compete she did not advance past the quarterfinals.

Tennis The output she produced at the 2020 US Open – she had a stirring run to the final – was the first sign that she was working things out. But it took two more seasons of mediocre results at the Slam, before the last four years were back in Melbourne last month.

Roar again: Azarenka rolled back the years in Melbourne last month, storming into the last four of the Australian Open and looking every inch the player who won the tournament ten years ago.

although he Lose to Wimbledon champion Alina RybakinaAzarenka defeated 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 10th seed Madison Keys and third seed Jessica Pegula in a strong campaign. She looked every inch the player she wanted to win back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, capable of dominating both a rally and counter-punching.

She demonstrated her physical and mental resilience in a late-night encounter against Zhu Lin of China, which she described as “two hours and 40 minutes of absolute pressure”.

Azarenka made a significant ranking gain thanks to her performance, moving up eight places to No. 16. She will be equally pleased with her consistency in the Grand Slam fortnight: it suggested that making the final in New York in 2020 was not a one-off; Her peak years may be behind her, but there’s no reason she can’t dream of tasting huge success again.

Azarenka said that changing her mindset and overcoming her anxiety paved the way for her return to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

“I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything that I liked about myself, not even a sentence,” she said. “From then on, I tried to simplify it further. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, trying not to be negative. Acknowledging the concerns that I have. I have Accepting what fear is. Working through it, step by step.”

a better understanding

Finding a Way: Azarenka said changing her mindset and overcoming her anxiety helped her both on and off the court.

Finding a Way: Azarenka said changing her mindset and overcoming her anxiety helped her both on and off the court.

Azarenka was asked whether going through a process to deal with her anxiety helped her understand her problems in 2013, when she faced allegations of sportsmanship following her semi-final win over Sloane Stephens at Melbourne Park. The Belarusian had taken a medical timeout of nearly 10 minutes after blowing five match-points and denied the allegation after her win, saying she needed treatment for a rib injury that had affected her breathing.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my professional career,” Azarenka said. “The way I was treated, the way I had to explain myself till 10:30 pm because people didn’t want to believe me. Sometimes there is an insatiable desire for a villain and a hero story to be written. But we are not villains, we are not heroes, we are regular human beings who go through many things. It took me 10 years to recover from it. I’m finally over it.

Azarenka also spoke in Melbourne about how her professional and personal lives are intertwined. “I don’t think one goes without the other. I feel like a tennis court — maybe for everyone, but for me, especially — creates a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. It’s an open canvas. In a high-pressure moment, strange emotions come out on the court.”

The Belarus athlete said she has a coping mechanism when the nerves are up. But it’s still a work in progress; The key, she said, was not to become a prisoner of her past.

“It’s really difficult to be brave and make the right choices in critical moments when you feel anxious and hesitant,” Azarenka said after her quarterfinal win. “When you have great success, sometimes you become conservative and hesitant to try new things. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to be open-minded, try new things, keep my head Will put it down and work.

Now 33 and a self-described “obnoxious soccer mom” bidding to become only the fourth woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era after kids, Azarenka isn’t looking too far ahead. Her focus is on the present and her son, Leo.

“Leo doesn’t really care that much that I’m playing,” she said. “He worries more about his soccer, He watches some matches, but he definitely wishes his mother was at home. I am towards the end of my career and I cannot say that focussing on results has not worked for me. But when you didn’t live up to your expectations, it did a big trick on me mentally

,[That is] Kind of a tough hole to get out of. I’m taking small steps and really working on my intentions and what I want to do. I was just like ‘Can I do this?’ or ‘Can’t I do this?’ I just try to see what happens. It’s a big win for me.”