Calm & collected: Azarenka d. Kerber to win Brisbane

Azarenka USO 13 TR MALT8077

BRISBANE, Jan. 9, 2015 – Three years ago, Victoria Azarenka was nearly dominating. Yes, Serena Williams was going hard then and Maria Sharapova was healthy and strong, but the Belarussian was lethal on the hard courts. She had won two Australian Open finals, and until she was knocked out, she was the favorite.

But towards the end of the season, she had badly slipped and her confidence disappeared. It has taken her two years to be fully healthy and mentally sound once again.

In the final, Azarenka tore apart Angie Kerber 6-3 6-1 to win the crown at Brisbane. She played nearly perfect. She clubbed 23 winners and made just nine in forced errors. She rushed the net 13 times and won 10 points. Her serve can be up and down, but she moved it around the box. Her forehand and backhand were hard and deep. Last year, she wasn’t quite fast enough, but now she is faster and she sprints quickly side-to-side.

“Definitely a lot more comfortable, a lot more calm, a lot more aware. Happy. Very happy,” she said

In 2013, the then 23-year-old looked like she would be at the top for a long, long time. In January, she was No. 1. In Brisbane, she got hurt and pulled out before the semis against Serena. It didn’t matter because she recovered, winning the Aussie Open once again, beating Sloane Stephens and Li Na to win the title. The two-time defending champion could be controversial, but on court, she was fearless.

She won Doha by upsetting Serena, but a few weeks later at Indian Wells she lost her No. 1 ranking. She didn’t really seem to care, because she would get it back. She lost to Serena in Rome, to Sharapova at Roland Garros, and then she got hurt again and pulled out at Wimbledon.

On hard courts, she reached the final at San Diego, and at Cincinnati, she reached the final again. In a classic contest, she edged Serena 2-6 6-2 7-6 (6). Right there, it looked like Azarenka could finally win the US Open. Uh-uh. In the final, she got a little crazy in the third set, and Serena was much more composed, winning the title 7-5 6-7 (6) 6-1.

Bye-bye Vika, who began to slide – fast.

In 2014, she only played nine tournaments. In Australia, she said that she was raring ago. She reached the Brisbane final, losing against Serena, but it was a very decent contest. However, in the quarters against Aga Radwanska in Australia – whom she had beaten her so many times – she folded in the third set, going down 6-1 5-7 6-0.

After that, she was pretty much done. She lost early everywhere, except for the US Open, when she managed to grind and reached the quarterfinal, but she looked like she was out of shape and Ekaterina Makarova out-hit her.

At the start of 2015, Azarenka admitted that last year that she was depressed after she and her ex-boyfriend broke up. However, she wanted to play better again, so badly that she could feel it. But Azarenka couldn’t beat the best players that year. She was close at times – even against the phenomenal Serena—but she was a little bit short. Now she says that the reason why was because she was hurt continuously.

“I was hurt the whole year actually. There was not a moment where I felt good,” she said. “I have no pain. There was a lot of medication last year which made me feel crazy actually at some moments. I don’t respond well to medication. It was a constant battle with pain, with my own fear. Like is it going to hurt again? I don’t want to go through that. But it took me to a point where I decided, Okay, I got to stop and try to figure out and actually change my life around the tennis court.

“I had a lot of changes last year, so it took a little bit of time to regroup, reorganize, mature a little bit, understand how to organize yourself. I’m like a freak right now. Like I’m super organized. Like my bag has to be a certain way. I’ve never been like this. I was a little bit messy. I just didn’t care. I would throw things around. My mom was getting so pissed off with me. Now I found what works for me, what makes me feel comfortable, calm, at peace. So it’s good.”

This was only one week and there is a lot of matches to go, but at least now, she knows that if she can be calm and she can continue to mix up the pace, she can go very deep once against at the Aussie Open.

Can she win it again? If she is playing as well as she can, she can be right there against anyone. But as she said, there is no come back, she just needs to continue on.

“I don’t really call it comeback. I don’t think there is a name for it,” she said. “I think it’s more for you guys to put it as a headline. For me, it’s like you’re reading a book and you just turn the page. That part of it was over. You just flip the page. I think that’s exciting. I can’t wait the to read the next page.”

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