Perseverance pays off for Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka, the 21-year-old from Minsk, Belarus, who trains in Arizona, won the prestigious Sony Ericsson title at Key Biscayne for the second time in three years when she outplayed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-4 in a final played under cloudless Florida skies.
Double faulting too often and too slow to react to her opponent’s penetrating ground strokes for much of the match, Sharapova staged a brave fight back from 0-4 down in the second but, despite a sudden stream of winners, it was too late.
Showing maturity beyond her years, Azarenka refused to buckle under the onslaught and emerged as an impressive champion. “Yes, it was more a question of mental strength than anything,” said Azarenka. “She was going for her winners, and I just had to hang in there.”
Sharapova admitted it all happened too late for her. “It’s a little bit too late to pick up the pace when you are down a set and 4-0,” she admitted. “Obviously I wish I’d picked it up earlier. Against a player like her you have to have that level from the beginning or else she’s going to go with it and only get better. Yeah, she did many things better than I did today. She was the aggressive one.”
The former Wimbledon champion and world No. 1 who has now risen back into the WTA top 10, refused to be too down on herself, however. “I’m very, very happy that I’ve achieved this much in the last three, four weeks,” she said. “If you saw me 10 weeks ago when I came back from the Paris Indoors after pulling out with the flu, I was in no shape to play a tournament. The first day I went on the court, my coach knew it was just laughable. I had lost weight, and I was so out of it.”
So reaching the final at the Sony was good progress for Sharapova but frustrating, too, in the end because she was a finalist here back in 2005 and 2006 and is still searching for that elusive title. As is so often the case, the player who is struggling does not get the luck, and it was Azarenka who had three drop-dead net cords — two in a row at 3-0.
Maria brushed it off. “Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” she said, trying to smile. “I was obviously down when it happened so it didn’t really help. What can you do about it? It’s a sport. There’s a net.”
Azarenka, who defeated last year’s U.S. Open finalists, Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva, back to back on her way to the final, will move up to No. 6 in the world now — an achievement she attributes, in part, to a recent change of attitude.
After losing in Dubai earlier in the year, she went home and spent a long time thinking about her tennis. “It was funny, you know,” she said. “I went home and spent three days just by myself. I guess it takes time and sometimes loneliness to realize what you have to do in your life. I still care if I win, obviously, but I told myself not to make such a big drama out of losing. If you lose, I mean, you just lose a tennis match. It’s not the end of the world.
"I know it sounds a little bit out there, but look what happens in Japan, for example, and we’re here playing tennis, being able to do something we love. So, I mean, why make a big deal of it?"
Victoria Azarenka: a young champion with perspective.