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Victoria’s secret saviours

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Originally published on: 30/01/12 11:22

Victoria Azarenka has just followed the most successful season of her career – in which she produced a career-high ranking of No.3 and a Wimbledon semi-final – by winning the Australian Open title to become  world No.1. But without the input of her mum and her grandma it might never have happened.

Indeed, without their wisdom it is possible the intense and sometimes over-motivated Belarusian might no longer be playing on the women’s tour at all.

Travelling the globe for months on end can be a tough and lonely business, so it’s not so surprising that emotional rescue sometimes comes from unexpected places. In Azarenka’s case it was more that it came at an unexpected time. As early as February, in only her fourth tournament of the year, and having just climbed one place to world No.9, she felt that she had had enough.

The ambush of despair happened during a three-set loss to Daniela Hantuchova in balmy, tree-lined Doha, after which Azarenka’s feelings ran out of control alarmingly. “Afterwards I talked to my mum and said to her, ‘I don’t want to play any more – it’s not fun,’” she said.

Fortunately, Alla Azarenka, who first placed a tennis racket in her daughter’s hand at the age of seven, had a good idea of how to do the same thing again. “She told me, ‘come home and have some rest – and don’t be crazy about it,’” Victoria said.

She had a nice self-deprecating candour. In retrospect, her feelings may have seemed unusually mad. At the age of 22 she had already earned more than $7 million in prizemoney alone, with every prospect of tripling it before she was done.

She also had a developing all-court game which was quite capable of beating anyone. But being logical about analysing stress can miss the point. It sometimes needs understanding subjectively.

It was necessary to realise that Azarenka’s tendency to over-react to defeat had changed. It was no longer just a painful but endurable experience for it had blinded her destructively to her very considerable achievements.

How could she have got so down about it all? It was clear to Nina Bondareva, her grandma, who experienced Soviet occupation, Soviet overthrow, economic crises, and cultural repression among life’s many trials, how Vika’s perspective was faulty.

“She pointed out there are things so much harder in life than tennis matches,” Azarenka admitted. “People struggle in life with really big problems – problems so much more difficult than losing a match, or ranking points, or the hours of travelling and competing here, while doing what we love.

“You look in a little bit of a different way to these things after you realise that. That was a big help from her. It was easier to go on court after that.”

Read this article, written by Richard Eaton, in full in the January issue of tennishead magazine. For more information about how to subscribe click here, or download the magazine for Ipad here.

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