New star on the tennis horizon

The parents of Vika Azarenko, who was born on July 31st, 1989, always knew their daughter would go far in the world of sport. She has proven them right, being among the top ten tennis players in the world at the age of 19. Victoria now has her sights set on becoming first seed, by beating Serena Williams
The parents of Vika Azarenko, who was born on July 31st, 1989, always knew their daughter would go far in the world of sport. She has proven them right, being among the top ten tennis players in the world at the age of 19. Victoria now has her sights set on becoming first seed, by beating Serena Williams.

It’s generally believed that she may succeed by the end of the year — or even earlier. Some compare her to Maria Sharapova (who also has Belarusian roots, as her parents were living in Gomel just before her birth). Here, we return to the beginning…
Vika began playing tennis at the age of seven, with Valentina Rzhanykh as her first coach. She saw her talent and helped Vika love tennis. “I saw her desire to achieve success; you could quite envy Vika’s determination. She was brave enough to take on any rival — even those older and taller than herself,” Valentina explains. As a child, Vika acted as a ball-girl to Belarus’ top tennis stars Maxim Mirny and Vladimir Volchkov, at the Davis Cup. She looked at them and dreamt of winning before a grateful audience. Determination, talent and fortunate circumstances helped her achieve her goal.
Her mother, Alla, tells us, “As a child, Vika was able to choose between music and tennis. The conservatory’s professor, who taught her piano, thought she had talent. However, she preferred to concentrate on tennis…” With the help of her Belarusian coaches, she became a semi-finalist at Wimbledon’s junior event.
However, having reached her ceiling in Belarus, she understood that she would need to continue her training abroad. In October 2004, Victoria went to Marbella in Spain, to a famous — and expensive — aca-demy; her fees were paid by a Belarusian enterprise. The former coach of Steffi Graf, Klaus Hofsas, took her under his patronage, having recognised her potential, and predicted she would become the world’s first seed. In 2005, Azarenko won several Grand Slam junior tournaments and was named best in her age category worldwide. At Wimbledon’s after-tournament party, she stood next to top seed Roger Federer. Her path to glory and success had truly begun…
After graduating from the aca-demy in Marbella, Vika moved to the USA. Of course, she owes much to those who’ve helped her: there is a saying that those without talent push themselves forward and that those with talent need encouragement. “I am sure Vika wouldn’t have achieved success without the support of the family of famous hockey goal-keeper Nikolay Habybulin,” notes her mother. “Vika lives with them, in their house in Phoenix. They ensure she has everything she needs, so she can just concentrate on tennis.” Vika is suitably grateful.
Remarking on a beautiful bracelet of sparkling gems she was wearing, a journalist asked her if it was a sponsor’s gift. Vika replied that it had been a gift from Stanley Cup winning hockey star Nikolay Habybulin. “My mother introduced me to his fa-
mily; she knew Nikolay’s wife Viktoria from when they lived in Minsk and had kept in touch. Kolia often calls me before my matches to inspire me, while his wife, a former tennis player, gives me precious advice. Their daughter, Alexandra, also plays tennis in America as a Belarusian…”
Vika’s mother noted a year ago that she thought her daughter needed to gain more muscle. “She left the junior category on turning 18 but lacks body mass. She’s working hard to improve herself; of course, she has her aspirations and strong character to see her through. Assistance from her coach, also young and ambitious, has played its part; they compliment one another. It’s very important to keep in good health; Vika has ma-
naged to recover from illness recently, as well as an operation. Everything is perfectly set for her to move forward in her sport.”
In 2007, Azarenko took her place among the world’s top 100 and, in 2008, won her first prestigious adult tournament, paired with Maxim Mirny in the mixed doubles: the USA Open. Vika struggled to win a professional women’s tournament, reaching the final several times but always losing. It was a nerve-racking period but she was improving, beating such stars as Sharapova, Hingis and Dementjeva in Grand Slam games. In 2008, she won her first million US Dollars and has now accumulated a total of 2,514,558 million US Dollars (excluding taxes and expenses).
Last season, Vika surprised many people — having improved her fitness. She’d been working with Portuguese coach Antonio van Grichen (recommended by Nikolay Habybulin’s wife) and physical training coach Mark Wellington (who worked with Maria Sharapova when she won Wimbledon). Alla Azarenko explains, “We were lucky to conclude the contract; young girls need to work with ambitious young coaches, to see best results…”
Specialists, journalists and fans of the young Belarusian believe her to be at full power. She has won three tournaments out of five recently — while Elena Dementjeva, Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva have just two victories each. Vika also won the Premier Games in Miami, avenging her loss to Serena Williams in the 4th round of the Australian Open (she had to retire due to food poisoning).
Her victory in Miami left the 19 year old seeded eighth, with 700 000 US Dollars of prize money. Journa-lists asked her if she knew how to manage her finances and her witty reply was, “Of course, I can spend it in a single day, on buying cars and jewellery!” She drives a Mercedes and, being under 21 (the legal age for drinking in the USA) was obliged to celebrate her victory with a meal out at a restaurant without the usual champagne.
Vika’s favourite city remains Minsk, where she returns with pleasure, even though she has travelled the world and can afford many things. Certainly, she is like others her age in liking Britney Spears, hip-hop and R&B. She spends holidays at the seaside and enjoys hanging out with friends and watching popular TV programmes. On the eve of the current season, she was resting in Malaysia. As to what she would have done if she had not followed a career in tennis, Vika tells us, “I would have become an actress or moved into fashion.” Naturally, she can afford to keep up with the latest trends these days.
Much is expected of the young star — as she starts her glorious tennis career. Belarus will be following her progress…

Sergey Kanashits
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