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Sunday, June 3, 2012
Better get your swagger back, Azarenka

By Joanne C. Gerstner

PARIS -- Victoria Azarenka does not hold in her dark, sarcastic streak, especially when things go wrong.

After nearly losing her first-round match at the French Open, she joked she was thinking about jumping on the next flight to Minsk, Belarus, her hometown, to escape Paris. But she won in three sets over Alberta Brianti.

Azarenka's time was up on Sunday at Roland Garros, losing 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the fourth round to a fired-up Dominika Cibulkova on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Azarenka was frustrated during the match, smashing her racket to pieces midway through the second set.

Victoria Azarenka
It's clear after watching Victoria Azarenka that she needs an attitude adjustment.

She was still emotionally edgy at her news conference, held about an hour after she lost.

Her snide streak came out again, when asked what she is going to do to recover from her unexpectedly quick exit from the year's second Grand Slam.

"I'm gonna kill myself," Azarenka said, throwing in a catty smirk to punctuate her point.

I'm not putting Azarenka on suicide watch after this loss, but I would like to put her butt back on the practice court between now and Wimbledon for a little attitude adjustment. She said she's going back home to Minsk, and not playing another tournament until Wimbledon starts on June 25.

She needs to go home, regroup, and think a little about how to play more consistent, aggressive tennis. She needs to think about playing like the best player in the game. She's becoming a Caroline Wozniacki-like world No. 1 -- meaning you're on top, thanks to a computer, but you're not really the best one on the tour. Azarenka at least has won a major, the 2012 Australian Open, while Wozniacki is still looking for her breakthrough.

Azarenka had a swagger at the start of the year on the hard courts, coming into the ring like a boxer looking to turn the lights out on an opponent in the first round. The three matches I watched here in Paris were light on swagger -- and heavy on passiveness. She looks like she's coasting, as if she's waiting to turn it on at some point, get out of trouble and win the match. It doesn't work that way.

She ran into a pesky, 5-foot-3 baseliner in Cibulkova on Sunday, who by the way, has made it to the semifinals of the French Open before. Cibulkova, seeded 15th, clearly had no fear of Azarenka and grew taller by the point as she took it to her. Azarenka didn't lose the match, rather Cibulkova charged in and snatched it from the start.

It's fine for Azarenka to be mad that she lost, and testy with the press questioning her about the reasons why it happened or if she's a worthy No. 1. The more important question: What is Azarenka going to do about this going forward? I'd tell her to go to Minsk, hang with your family, get your head right and be ready to play at Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Or be prepared for a lot more questions about her play and legitimacy at No. 1.