Azarenka: “I definitely appreciate being on the court more now”

Victoria Azarenka hopes her newfound serenity will help her clinch that Australian Open title.

Victoria Azarenka Australian Open 2023 (AI _ Reuters _ Panoramic) Victoria Azarenka Australian Open 2023 (AI _ Reuters _ Panoramic)

Victoria Azarenka has often been in two battles on a tennis court: against her opponent and against herself. She’s just like that: she’s a storm, she’s an absolute perfectionist, she cannot stand failing. So many great champions are like this, and it’s also because they’re made this way that they succeed. But Azarenka has too often been stuck on the wrong side of that coin and, compiled with personal issues and too many injuries, it nearly came back to break her down.

“A lot of times I’ve been taught and I hear some people say, ‘Try not to think about it’. I’m like, ‘What the (expletive) are you talking about? How are you able not to think about anything?’ I understand the concept of being in the zone, but not thinking about anything, that’s a hard one for me to understand. It’s just like a work in progress every day.”

In 2023, she’s trying a new approach. She tries to give herself some grace for not being perfect and to let go of the inner fighting. She also intends to stop letting what people think of her get in the way, as she remembers how she was vilified here ten years ago after beating Sloane Stephens for what people thought was a fake MTO for a rib injury.

“It was one of the worst things that I’ve ever gone through in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. at night because people didn’t want to believe me. I actually can resonate with what Novak said the other day. Assumptions and judgments, all those comments, are just shit because nobody’s there to see the full story. It didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through. Actually, it’s funny that you’re saying that because I was thinking about it. It took me 10 (expletive) years to get over it. I finally am over that.”

Champions also have often a way to find extra motivation: Azarenka finding back the rage against that ten-year-old incident just when she’s about to play a new semi-final here is fascinating. But between that revenge road she’s on here and her new approach, she’s been back to her vintage level out there as she proved against Jessica Pegula.

“I felt like I’ve actually played some really good tennis from the beginning of the year. I am very happy about today’s match. I felt like I executed really well. I thought by executing really well, it paid off and the result came. Today I knew I had to play fast, I had to not give her the opportunity to step in, I had to mix it up. I was like, ‘you’re doing the right thing. Even if it looks like crap, it’s fine. It’s the right way to do it. Just think about a better execution’. I’m very excited. I feel like I definitely appreciate being on the court more now. I’m excited to give it another go in the semifinal and try my best.”

Her best in 2023 doesn’t mean the same thing as ten years ago though. Anxiety came in the way as a too-heavy price to pay for her perfectionism. So Azarenka, as she’s been doing over and over again, decided to reinvent herself.

“It builds up until you hit a pretty bad spot where nothing kind of makes sense. You feel kind of lost. I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything that I feel good about myself, not even one sentence. That was a very tough moment for me. From then, I tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative. Accepting the anxiety that I have. Accepting the fear that I have. Kind of working through it. That was step by step. I kept trying to go a little step forward, another challenge, another step forward. I learned how to build a process that is step-by-step instead of jumping to the conclusion in the situation, jumping to a result, or to the goal. I’m pretty happy that the process that I’m going through makes me feel confident about myself and happy about myself, and helps me to be more open, accepting, and compassionate. ‘Compassionate’ was a very hard word for me to understand.”

Always wearing her heart on her sleeve during matches, always fighting for each point as if her life depended on it, always being a point away from totally losing her mind in the middle of a match: Azarenka will always remain a rarity on the Tour. And a fantastic one. She’s a rollercoaster of emotions and tantrums, a box of tennis skills, and a larger-than-life character. She, unfortunately, paid the price too often for it all, and there’s no way to tell until when she’s going to be able to keep it together. For tennis, one hopes it’s for good now. But just in case, don’t miss her matches if you have a chance to catch a glimpse of them. You never know.

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