If you think defending women’s singles champion Sam Stosur is flying under the radar at this year’s U.S. Open, she’s in good company with the world No.1 and top seed Victoria Azarenka who seeks her first ever title in New York.
Despite having her best season ever that includes winning the Australian Open and two Olympic medals including a gold in mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi, Azarenka continues to struggle to gain widespread acceptance from many tennis fans and even the media who prefer to focus on the likes of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
A good case in point was Azarenka’s first round meeting against Alexandra Panova that ended up being scheduled as the last match of the day session on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Although it was a complete blowout with Azarenka winning 6-1, 6-0, the stadium was not even half full and after she won Azarenka wasn’t even called in for press afterwards. Not that there was much to write about the match, but Azarenka is considered a contender for the title and since she hadn’t played any tennis since pulling out of Montreal with a knee issue, wouldn’t that have been a good time to ask her about her game and her health going into the last Major of the year?
After winning her second round match against Kristen Flipkins, Azarenka was finally interviewed and asked about her lack of success in New York that includes only reaching the fourth round once in her career and an abrupt exit last year in the third round at the hands of Serena Williams.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove something. Of course I would rather always win than lose. Taking last year’s experience or the year before that, I can’t really look back on it and take something. I mean, I can take something from it, but not really look back. The next match is gonna be, you know, the usual match for me. I don’t have anything that, you know, it’s the third round or I have to win that I didn’t pass last two years. It’s just gonna be another match. I have a tough opponent. You know, I’m up for the challenge.”
Azarenka’s sudden transformation in the last twelve months from being a hot-headed, often injured young star into now the top women’s player is quite an achievement but still one that many are trying to comes to terms with. Her high-pitched on-court wail is a turn-off for some, but haven’t we all gotten used to Sharapova’s trademark scream by now? Azarenka is also a tremendous fighter on court and that’s something any tennis fan can embrace and at least respect.
Respect for Azarenka may only be earned by her if she wins several more Majors and if she continues to show more sides of her personality that at times is viewed as being too intense and a tad prickly on and off the court. That may come time in as she matures and if she does so, then that could be what finally sway people to focus on her matches more, especially in the early rounds.
Though Williams is the pick of many to win in New York, hard courts is Azarenka’s best surface and with her winning records over most of the field except for Williams, it would be more of a surprise to not see Azarenka in the finals. A title run by Azarenka would cement her status as the player of the year. But even if she doesn’t win in New York, it’s time the tennis world accept that Azarenka, barring major injury, will be around for some time and that after several years of having Caroline Wozniacki be No. 1 but not be considered a “legit” holder of that ranking, Azarenka has all the credentials and skills to stay on top for some time.
Azarenka will be aiming to reach the second week again in New York when she takes on Zheng Jie in the next round.