Secret of her victories
[b]This season is special for Victoria Azarenko. In 2009, the most successful Belarusian tennis player won WTA tournaments and played in the finals in Doha. However, 2010 may become a true pearl in her novice career, demonstrating her true [/b]Victoria’s tenth ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association isn’t the highest in her career but her efforts are worthy of praise. Failures in the middle of the season, injuries and six pre-schedule match cancel-lations made the Belarusian’s participation in the Masters final, in Doha, a true sensation. Moreover, Victoria beat Serena Williams to reach the top eight tennis players in the world. Previously, the American has many times prevented our Victoria from reaching her goal: at the Beijing Olympics and at the 2009 Australia Open (when heat stroke affected the Belarusian’s play). This time, luck restored the balance; the Williams sisters’ decision to step out to rest created an opening for Victoria. As we’d expect, she grasped it with both hands...
Victoria’s tenth ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association isn’t the highest in her career but her efforts are worthy of praise. Failures in the middle of the season, injuries and six pre-schedule match cancel-lations made the Belarusian’s participation in the Masters final, in Doha, a true sensation. Moreover, Victoria beat Serena Williams to reach the top eight tennis players in the world. Previously, the American has many times prevented our Victoria from reaching her goal: at the Beijing Olympics and at the 2009 Australia Open (when heat stroke affected the Belarusian’s play). This time, luck restored the balance; the Williams sisters’ decision to step out to rest created an opening for Victoria. As we’d expect, she grasped it with both hands...
The Kremlin Cup is a special event for Belarusian tennis players, being organised near their homeland. Its hard cover is familiar, as is the climate. However, until recently, none had managed to win the event. Last year, Olga Govortsova came close but, in 2010, Ms. Azarenko succeeded where Olga had failed. “I really needed this victory in Moscow,” Victoria smiled after crushing Russian Maria Kirilenko. “It not only lifted the questions regarding my future participation in the final tournament in Doha but gave me much needed inner confidence.”
The Kremlin Cup is Ms. Azarenko’s second title this season and her fifth professional title to date.
Victoria began playing tennis in Minsk but it was in the USA that she became a true ‘swan’ of the global courts. She moved from Belarus to attend the Spanish Tennis Academy, living with the family of the famous hockey goalkeeper, Nikolay Khabibullin (an old friend of the Azarenko family). Victoria took her first steps in professional tennis in the USA and, even today, speaks warmly of the huge role played by the Khabibullins and America in her success. “I can’t imagine what would have become of me if it were not for these people,” she admits. “I arrived in America alone and everything was alien to me; I knew no one. However, I had a place to stay and people who understood me...”
It’s hard to say for sure but this American stage of her life may have led to her success on the USA’s tennis circuit. She has won two out of the five USA titles. The fourth tournament of the Grand Slam — the US Open — always views Vika as a favourite and many say that this could be the start of her conquering the most presti-gious tennis series.
All sportsmen know the toll that professional sports take on the body and Victoria is no exception. She has suffered numerous injuries, even returning to Minsk on crutches after a leg injury a few years ago. She unwittingly destroyed Belarus’ hopes of entering the World Group of the Federation Cup. Last season, heat stroke in Melbourne prevented Vika from finishing her match against Serena Williams, although she was close to winning. Her success would have automatically ensured her place in the finals.
However, all these problems seem insignificant in comparison to the experiences of this season. Victoria’s losing to Williams was her only failure last season and fans had hoped that Azarenko had put her problems behind her. Sadly, the 2010 season saw the situ-ation repeated and was even more disappointing. In the European leg of the pro-tour, she was obliged to step down in her very first match, held in Spanish Marbella. In the semi-finals, she lost to Spanish Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (who is not among the highest rankings). Moreover, the situation repeated itself six times throughout the season. During the USA Open, while viewed as a favourite, Victoria fainted and had to be helped off the court.
“Vika has her own style of play,” famous Russian TV commentator Anna Dmitrieva notes, trying to explain Vika’s unexpected failures. Azarenko led in almost every case before deciding to resign from the match. Anna, who knows the tennis world perfectly, adds, “Victoria is always balancing on a knife’s edge and takes risks, while attacking with all her might. She goes for broke and this helps her win. However, tennis is a game which requires cold rationality and a safe strategy. Those who lack the strength to play steadily, despite perhaps battling extreme heat on the court, can fail. Experience is needed to ensure you keep back enough strength to last the whole match.”
Those who agree with Coubertin see money as secondary to personal satisfaction when it comes to winning but none can deny the huge prizes involved in professional tennis: many thousands of Dollars. In 2010, Belgian Kim Clijsters earned the most among all tennis players, winning over $5m in prize money — including $1,450,000 for her victory in Doha. Her income from advertising campaigns is another matter entirely. Some speculate that the pursuit of such huge sums can destroy careers but Vika has her own opinion; she spent her first prize money on buying a car for her mother. She stresses that not everything can be bought and sold in our world. “It’s more important for me that I’m doing something I love — and winning. People recognise me and support me. Of course, it’s good to have the chance to earn money and buy something for myself or my parents,” she says.
Despite her failures, Azarenko has won $1,377,028 this season, making her the tenth highest earner and bringing her total winnings to almost $5m. As she’s still only 21, there’s no doubt that her major earnings lie ahead.
It’s always interesting to re-read old interviews, since they show how champions change over time, and how their rankings influence their outlook. “Women’s tennis is much less predictable than men’s, especially now. Seeded sportswomen often lose, sometimes in the first round; it’s a sensation which happens almost every day,” Victoria noted two years ago, speaking of her sporting future. “There’s no such thing as the strongest tennis player; anyone can become a star,” she concluded, adding that she wasn’t interested in rankings. The Belarusian stressed that she was taking one match at a time. Now, her opinion has changed. Parties, presentations and other elements of her ‘celebrity’ status have become routine to her. Unlike some tennis colleagues, who devote too much time to such glamour, Victoria keeps her focus on tennis; her sport is her number one priority. “I have only one goal now — to win every match,” she explained at the Kremlin Cup. “I know I’ve had problems, which hampered me from taking advantage of every opportunity last season. I’m now doing everything possible not to repeat the same mistakes next season.” We certainly have grounds to hope that next season will be a bright page in the biography of this most successful Belarusian tennis player.
By Dmitry Komashko