Victoria Azarenka has come to the defence of Australian Open favourite Novak Djokovic, after intense speculation the Serbian star's hamstring injury may not be all it was cracked up to be. Djokovic's straight-sets demolition job on Alex de Minaur in the fourth round prompted wonder at the speed with which Djokovic had been able to seemingly recover from the complaint.
De Minaur has since hit out at some of the speculation surrounding Djokovic, declaring on social media that he had simply been handily outplayed by the former World No.1. Djokovic himself would later hit out at media speculation, asking why his injuries were frequently questioned.
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“It is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues … that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situations," he said. Those comments struck a chord for Azarenka, who endured a somewhat similar controversy on her way to winning the second of her two Australian Open titles in 2013.
After blowing five match points in a row in the 2013 semi-final against Sloane Stephens, Azarenka called for a medical timeout. Citing a problem with her hip, she was eventually able to prevail over Stephens - however it was not without controversy.
“I actually can resonate with what Novak said the other day," Azarenka said. “Assumptions and judgments, all those comments, are just sh*t because nobody’s there to see the full story.
“It didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through. Actually it’s funny that you’re saying that because I was thinking about it. It took me 10 f**king years to get over it.”
Azarenka is enjoying a career resurgence at Melbourne Park in 2023, ten years after winning the second of her two singles titles there. The Belarusian player remains the last women's player to have successfully defended their Australian Open crown, thanks to her back to back wins in 2012 and 2013.
Victoria Azarenka enjoys career resurgence at Australian Open
It's been a difficult few seasons for the former champion. Azarenka hadn't made it to the fourth round of a slam since the 2020 US Open, crediting her resurgence to a change in mindset.
“I played with a lot of fear and anxiety so it really was difficult to be brave and to make the right choices in the important moments when you feel anxious and hesitant,” she said. “I worked a lot on my mindset and challenged myself on my things I wouldn’t really do before and pushed myself forward.”
Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Open champion, defeated close friend Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1 to reach the final four in Melbourne for the first time since sealing back-to-back triumphs 10 years ago.
"It hurts to beat her (Pegula) because I always want her to do well," Azarenka said. "She's been playing amazing, very consistent and I knew from the first point I had to bring it.
"I just wanted to try to stay there, take opportunities because she was going to take everything if I don't try to win myself. I'm very proud that I executed my game plan really well. It's so amazing to be in the semi-final of another grand slam."
Plenty has changed for Azarenka in the 10 years since her last semi-final in Melbourne - she is now 33 and a mother, but her aggressive baseline play was a reminder of her past triumphs.
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