Mirny and Azarenko write names in tennis history
Victoria Azarenko and Max Mirny — Olympic champions
The Belarusian pair defeated the British duo of Andy Murray and Laura Robson on the central court of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, winning the second Olympic medal for Belarusian tennis and making them Belarus’ first mixed doubles Olympic champions.
The tennis tournament at this year’s Games was rather ambiguous for Belarus, as Alexander Bury (who performed jointly with Max Mirny in the doubles) was knocked out after the first round.
Victoria also approached the mixed finals with uncertainty. On the one hand, she had won a bronze medal in the singles — a result of which most other Belarusian athletes can only dream. On the other, she had hoped to achieve a ‘personal’ gold. Sadly, Serena Williams managed to defeat her: the only true rival at the Games capable of stopping the world #1 seed rocket to the title of Olympic champion. After two years out of action through injury, Ms. Williams now appears to be making up for lost time and seems almost undefeatable among the world tennis elite.
Azarenko fought to her last drop of ‘sweat and blood’ in the singles semi-finals in London, making a few mistakes and having to steel her nerve to continue. Perhaps only Serena was capable of managing this ‘hurricane’. Maria Kirilenko, who faced Victoria in the fight for bronze, seemed greatly frustrated and confused at times by the onslaught of her opponent. Azarenko played similarly against Serena Williams.
Triumphantly, this was Belarus’ first ever tennis Olympic medal, although Victoria is modest in her victory. By the time she faced the media she had already played three matches that day: the one in which she claimed her singles bronze and two matches in the mixed doubles (taking into account the ? final match shifted at the last minute due to rain).
“An Olympic medal means a lot for me,” she mused. “I had a crazy desire to win but lacked strength and I didn’t know where to take strength. I kept trying to change my strategy. Usually, on losing a match, you are knocked out and your game is finished but, at the Games, I had to again enter the court after being beaten by Serena Williams of the USA. I had to promptly compose myself for my bronze match. It’s very difficult to prepare for such a serious game so quickly; it was a new experience for me. It doesn’t matter now though; the most vital thing is that I have a medal!”
Of course, the Belarusian tennis player still had a chance to return with gold from London, partnering Max Mirny (ranked first among world doubles). The regime had also been broken repeatedly, by the British rain. The pair were just one step from victory, facing British duo Andy Murray and Laura Robson on home ground: no mean feat in the UK’s major tennis complex, filled with home fans.
Murray and Robson began strongly, with two tie-breaks occurring almost immediately and the British confidently taking the first set 6:2. However, it was too early to celebrate victory. In the second game of the second set, Mirny claimed a tie-break with a brilliant cross. The third set was to decide the destiny of the Olympic gold (going to 10 points according to tie-break rules). This was the ultimate test of nerve and determination, with that of the Belarusian athletes proving stronger. The final score was 2:6, 6:3, 10:8.
“Wimbledon’s courts added a special taste to the victory,” notes Max Mirny. “I came from the Olympic village, which took a bit of time, but was worth it. The tournament had a tight schedule and was filled with favourites and season leaders. There were no days off and Victoria had to play three matches in a single day, requiring serious physical effort.”
Azarenko’s Olympiad has certainly brought a kaleidoscope of emotions, but she couldn’t conceal her joy, saying, “My feelings on winning a Grand Slam tournament and the Olympic Games are completely different. It was wonderful to earn bronze yesterday. However, we’ve now taken gold! There isn’t an athlete in the world who doesn’t dream of this. It’s always pleasant to win but I’m now experiencing utterly unique feelings.”
Even before the Olympiad in London, Max Mirny commented that these Games would likely be the last of his career. After claiming his gold, he left a note of ambiguity in the air, saying, “Will I go to Rio? It’s difficult to say. More points will be given in Brazil for an Olympic tournament… but why not? It will be an historic event, as the Games have never been organised in South America. The winners will certainly go down in history.”