After a series of games with top players in spring, Victoria Azarenka proved herself in good shape. She won three of seven matches against the top ten world tennis players. Between the clay and grass seasons, Azarenka came to Minsk where she gave a big interview about her son, Serena Williams’s daughter, Ashleigh Barty, and her aim to get her world No. 1 title back.
In the last four tournaments in the second rounds, you fought with the top 10 ranked players…
With the top 5 players, I’d say.
What is necessary to put an end to the repeated failures? Bad luck?
I would not call it a failure or bad luck. There were positive lessons to learn. From match to match, I keep working from my mistakes. There were so many details in those matches.
I had to put everything together to get the result. I carefully plan my game, bit by a bit. As you said, I come across strong rivals in the initial stages of tournaments.
It’s a new experience and I learn from these moments. The situation with difficult matches is that victory does not make you think about what you need to improve. Losing experience is harsh but very valuable.
After the tournament in Stuttgart, where you beat Karolina Pliskova, your coach Wim Fissette rejoiced that “Vika is back.” He said that this was possible thanks to the mental work you did. Can you elaborate on this?
No, this is personal. It is no secret that many athletes do mental work. Tennis is one of the most psychologically challenging sports.
Engaging in psychology is also part of the training process, which is not so often spoken of. It was important for me to try it out. I am pleased that I can improve myself as an athlete.
Is it ranking that gets in your way of achieving the desired result? Is it important for you? Maybe it’s better to become Belarus’s No. 1 player first?
Ranking, for sure, affects the seeding of players and other things. And it would be great to play against less-ranked athletes during the first circles of major tournaments.
The first circles are sometimes the most difficult since there are many young girls. They are unstable but can show a very high level in one or two matches. This is dangerous.
I don’t really think about becoming Belarus’s No. 1 player. This is not one of the main goals. If I achieve my main goal and become the world’s No. 1 player, then, accordingly, it will affect my status in Belarus.
How do you generally evaluate the clay season?
Compared to last year, it was better. Psychologically, it was much easier. I enjoyed the game. My movements on the court were in line to the game on the ground. This is probably the first time when I will miss the clay season a bit.
After the birth of your son, you started to play doubles more often. Why? For the sake of training practice?
I was always comfortable playing doubles and mixed doubles. Basically, the reason is that I had a game practice. It was necessary to imitate some moments, elements under pressure.
When training, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to achieve the proper effect. It was necessary to play as many matches as possible, especially at the beginning of the year.
Did you congratulate Ashleigh Barty (with whom you played doubles), on her victory at Roland Garros?
Of course, I did.
Tell us how did you meet Ashleigh Barty. In fact, she grew from a player of the second dozen to the world’s No. 2 player and the best tennis player in the world in the last three months.
I won’t tell how she achieved success but tell our story. We knew each other but were not close. She started to play tennis, then switched to cricket. She returned to tennis and began to play in small tournaments.
We trained together at the US Open last year. I liked talking to her and at some point, I suggested to play doubles when she feels like it. The thing is she already had Coco Vandeweghe as a partner.
When her partner got injured, she offered to play together at the Australian Open. It happened just a week before the tournament. I was pleased. I realized that we would make a good pair.
We enjoyed playing together. Unfortunately, in Australia, we managed to play only one match. Nevertheless, we agreed that starting the Indian Wells we will continue to play together.
Do you think it is necessary to introduce a video replay system at the Roland Garros? Or is it better to keep the traditional way of determining whether the ball is inside or outside?
Hawk-Eye is needed. I don’t think anyone really likes the traditional way. Still, judges can have difficulties with identifying the prints of the ball. It may be of different sizes depending on the weather. In my case, Hawk-Eye would make things much more convenient.
How did your game change after giving birth?
The game didn’t change. Last year I did not have enough strength, power, movement. You might have been under impression that my game was different, but it wasn’t.
Now I play aggressively, in advance, in rhythm and intensity. I became a rational player, I use more strokes and see the game better. It’s an experience. Plus now I use strikes that I did not use in the past.
How would you explain the regress in the game of Aryna Sobolenko, Aleksandra Sasnovich and Vera Lapko?
To begin with, this is a sport. People get used to good things very quickly. The results that the girls showed last year are unusual for Belarusian tennis.
I think the expectations were very high, they expected that results would continue to improve. In sports, it doesn’t work this way. Now there is a tendency for the decline. I hope they will draw the right conclusions.
Maybe the recession is temporary. In contrast to the last year, the decline is obvious but if to compare to two or three years ago the picture is pretty the same.
Are you going to play at the Olympics next year?
Alone or in a pair?
Will I play alone? The answer to that question is yes and about the doubles, I didn’t think about it yet.
The Olympic gold medal in the mixed doubles, two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, world No. 1 in singles – which of your achievements do you value the most?
I don’t assess my career. It’s too early to think about it. I have ambitious goals that do not allow me to sum it up. I know that if I decide to stop playing tomorrow, my career is very successful. I will have no regrets.
Since I have the motivation to work on myself, I concentrate on what is happening right now and will happen in the future. I’m at an interesting moment in my life. I’m getting to know myself.
I learn something new about myself every day. I do not feel that I’ll turn 30 soon. I am glad that I already have a son and I keep doing what I love. I could not imagine that it would be this way.
More on the topic:
I have a lot of good things in my life, as well as many difficulties I try to deal with with my head held high. My life is interesting. I think I will write about it one day.
Maybe. It is too early to say.
You have not been to Minsk for a long time. How do you spend time? Have you showed your son Leo your favorite places in the city?
I want him to spend time at home with family. He likes to water the flowers in the garden, and feed the ducks and go fishing. I am glad he likes being at home and that he is comfortable here.
Shortly after giving birth, Serena Williams said that her daughter Olympia would like to meet Leo. Did the meeting happen? Does Leo show interest in tennis?
Yes, I took Leo to my practice yesterday. He likes to play with balls, throws them. He has very good coordination. He started to play baseball and tried to skate. He will have the opportunity to try everything – that’s for sure.
Talking about Olympia, yes she and Leo have already played a couple of times. Our schedules are pretty busy to agree on, let alone our kids’. It is always great to see when tennis players take their families to the tournaments.