Victoria Azarenka has made the sad revelation that it took her "10 years" to get over being accused of 'cheating' at the Australian Open in 2013. The 33-year-old mother wound back the clock at Melbourne Park on Tuesday night, dispatching Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1 to reach the semi-finals.
It marks the first time the two-time champion has made it this far at the Australian Open since she won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. Discussion in her post-match press conference turned to the furore that erupted 10 years ago at Melbourne Park when Azarenka came under fire for taking a nine-minute medical timeout during her semi-final clash with Sloane Stephens in 2013.
'CAN'T DO THAT': Stefanos Tsitsipas in 'disgraceful' ball kid incident
'SAD TO WATCH': Sebastian Korda in brutal scenes at Australian Open
Azarenka failed to convert five match points, but turned things around after the medical timeout, eventually winning to move into the final. Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship at the time, however she later revealed she suffered a panic attack and was struggling to breathe.
Speaking on Tuesday night after her win over Pegula, Azarenka revealed she's only just recently gotten over the whole saga. “It was one of the worst things I have ever gone through in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10.30pm at night because people didn’t want to believe me," she said.
“I can resonate with what Novak [Djokovic] said the other day, there is sometimes - I don't know - an incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written but we are not villains or heroes, we are regular human beings who go through so many things, and assumptions and judgements and all those comments are just s**t. Nobody is there to see the full story and it didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through…it took me 10 f***ing years to get over it and I am finally over that."
Azarenka added: “I have been called that I am cheating, that I am faking, trying to throw people off their game. It’s everything that is so wrong about my character if somebody actually knows me.
"I have heard: 'She has this thing [that] is bad, or this thing is bad' or whatever. At some point you are like, 'really? Am I', so those doubts start to creep in.
“Now I just don’t care. I am more and more confident with what I know about myself and I am at peace. Those comments and judgements are there and I notice them, but I don’t care.”
In her on-court interview, Azarenka revealed she battled anxiety issues in 2022 and "wasn't there mentally". In her press conference she said: “I don’t think you recognise it straight away, I think it builds up until you hit a pretty bad spot where nothing makes sense, you feel kind of lost and I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything that I felt good about myself, not even one sentence.
“I broke a few racquets after my match in Ostrava [against Ekaterina Alexandrova], that was a very tough moment for me and from then I tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive and just trying to be neutral, not to go negative, accepting the anxiety and fear I have and working through it."
Victoria Azarenka to face Elena Rybakina
Azarenka said she felt for Pegula because they are close friends off the court. "It hurts to beat her because I always want her to do well," she 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."
Azarenka will next play Elena Rybakina for a place in another Australian Open final. Reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina earlier beat Jelena Ostapenko 6-2 6-4.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.