Victoria (Vika) Azarenka was off the tour for six months of the actual playing season and for eight months in the last year. The Grand Slam winner and world number one has had her bout with injuries.
It had been a struggle to get back on tour and there certainly were times that she questioned if she was going to get back to the top. As she put it “it’s very normal and very human” to have those sorts of doubts especially with all the stop-start tennis she was experiencing. The lack of consistency was not allowing her to maintain any sort of level.
“I think the approach to those thoughts is what counts and what brings you to be a champion,” she said.
Accepting the challenge and the grind to get back helped her to look to the positive side of things. She has always had determination and focus but with that has also come a valid perception that she was stand-offish and not the warmest of individuals to get to know. That also probably comes with the territory. Maria Sharapova is similar to Azarenka and they are probably too much alike to be friends.
But Azarenka says the period she was away allowed her to reassess her views. She says she is having more fun now.
“I don't think I've changed as a person, I think I grew as a person,” said Azarenka. “I think I'm able to speak my thoughts more freely, which before I think I was holding back and really was trying to fit into some kind of image that a lot of people, a lot of players do.
“I think it's very important to stay original, to stay yourself, true to yourself, to who you are. So I think I had to learn that and just be able to live with that and accept who I am as a person. I think it's a matter of maturity. But I still have a lot of room to improve, but I love the way where I'm heading.”
She says she is just being herself now. You wonder who she was before. She says what she wants to say and laughs when she wants to. She plays how she wants to and grunts when she wants to grunt. The question is what was she doing before after all she did win two Australian Opens and made the US Open final? Surely she was not being handled like a puppet and was her doing what she wanted. Sure seemed like it.
Azarenka backtracks a bit when she is asked to explain things and explain in particular what the image was she was put into.
“I think you're trying to be likable. It's not a question about being popular, but you want people to like you. Obviously, everybody does,” she said. “You don't want to be a person nobody likes. But just to be honest and to be respected to other players. I think what people don't talk about is the way the women's game changed, as well.
“We don't have that much tension between others when you're off the court. I love that. You speak with other players. It's more fun. We have to be respectful. I mean, I know we compete against each other. But to have that bond, I think it's very important because we see each other so much. Just to be respectful and nice to each other. I think it's very important.”
That is debatable when the picture of the players who qualified for last year’s season-ending tournament was taken and posted; it made the room they were in appear to be a freezer. There was next to no warmth between most of the players.
Azarenka says her approach to others in the locker room has changed. It wasn’t that she was not friendly she says but points out that it is better to know the other girls a bit more. She believes on-court tension should be put to one side and maybe look at other sports by doing more to create bonds.
“We can do much better; it starts from the players,” said Azarenka. “I miss so much Kim Clijsters because she was the one everybody loved and wanted to talk to. We can do much better.”
Azarenka wants to be the one leading the way. That is quite different to before it seems but the sceptic in many will wonder about the sentiment.
She appears to want to start with Maria Sharapova. Azarenka spends time in Los Angeles and Sharapova has a base there and would like to hit with her. So who will be the one making the first approach?
“I’m going to try. We’ll see what happens. Maybe one day, I don’t know,” indicated Azarenka.
Ticket prices to be a fly on the wall at that time would be at a premium.