Will Victoria Azarenka Wake Up From Her Nightmare At The US Open?
Victoria Azarenka is cranky, has been for a while now, and it's difficult to blame her.
Since she fell in a three-set classic to Serena Williams in the US Open final a year ago, things have been particularly unpleasant for the former No. 1 player in the world.
"This has been a nightmare for her," four-time US Open champion and ESPN analyst John McEnroe said.
Azarenka injured her left foot during her run to the Australian Open quarterfinals, where she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska. Between Australia and Wimbledon, Azarenka played a grand total of two matches in two tournaments, losing both.
But coming in fresh on the Wimbledon grass, Azarenka said she felt good and looked as though she was on the road to recovery during her first-round victory over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Still, Azarenka knew better. After losing a three-setter in the second round to 45th-ranked Bojana Jovanovski, one of the most mentally tough players on the WTA Tour, Azarenka berated herself for not being sharp enough.
"There are a lot of things that still has to be tuned and has to be practiced," she said. "It basically goes down to back to work."
Azarenka had hurt her right knee in her first-round match, but there were no excuses, she said.
"I have to be [hard on myself]. I have to be realistic. I cannot sit here and say it's all great because there's no moving forward from there. I'm going to be hard on myself just because I want to be better. ... I want to go back to practice, like, tomorrow, maybe even today. That's it."
When asked what she expected of herself, Azarenka snapped at the reporter.
"Do I ever expect anything from myself?" she said. "Did you ever hear me [say], 'I expect that?' I don't think so. I'm going to work hard. What I expect from myself is to work hard and give my best every single day."
Back in the U.S. for the summer hard-court season, Azarenka lost in straight sets to Venus Williams at Stanford but looked as though she might be coming back again with victories over Alize Cornet and Heather Watson in Montreal before losing again to Radwanska. She withdrew in Cincinnati last week, citing the injured right knee.
"I never expect much," she said. "I just go with what it is and try to improve on that. ... I'm just trying to progress, go day by day, stay in the moment and really take advantage of every day."
Women's tennis has missed Azarenka, for a while one of the few players seemingly unfazed by Serena Williams.
"Everyone is intimidated by Serena, especially when she's playing her A-game," McEnroe said. "If she doesn't play well, that opens the door for a lot of people. She becomes human. Azarenka was a player that seemed to believe as much or more than anyone else that she could do some damage. [But] her confidence is nowhere near what it was a year ago.
"I don't think she has been able to train as hard as she wanted. I don't think she's played nearly as many matches as she would've liked to. But as far as whether or not she could be a factor, the mere fact that she's won some majors and she's still young and obviously wants to ... I think she does have an opportunity to do something. I'm not 100 percent sure where she is physically, if she's healthy and whether she just needs match play. She may potentially go a long way. Obviously right now she's not playing with a lot of confidence."
The pressure of trying to return to full strength, Azarenka said, is nothing new.
"I think the most important [thing] is knowing what you want to achieve and knowing yourself and what you want to do and what you expect from yourself," she said. "You set yourself goals, and you try to reach your goals. Everything that comes from outside is not possible to control. The best you can do is focus on what you can do."