February 19, 2013
Feeling nervous? Just take a ten-minute break!
Well, she gave herself away in the interview, didn’t she? After her 6-1, 6-4 defeat of American teenager Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka was asked how she was feeling.
After all, Azarenka had just pushed gamesmanship to the limit by taking ten minutes out for an unscheduled break, instead of the three minutes you would normally expect with a personal trainer. There was the 44C heat, talk of breathing problems and even a sore ankle. More tellingly, Azarenka had just squandered five match points as plucky Stephens fought her way back into the match. And that rocky phase, Azarenka hinted, was the real reason she took such a long break.
‘How are you?’ It is such a simple post-match question. ‘Well at least I can breathe properly now,’ might have been the reply.
Instead Azarenka confessed: ‘I almost did the choke of the year. I felt a bit overwhelmed knowing I was only one step away from the final and the nerves got into me for sure.’
Heaven knows what poor Stephens must have felt when she heard that, having lost her rhythm after the long break.
But the Aussie crowd didn’t exactly give Azarenka a round of applause for that confession. And you get the feeling they’ll back little Li Na in the women’s final, after her 6-2, 6-2 destruction of Maria Sharapova.
What a competitor Li Na is – and what an interesting person too! She wasn’t afraid to get a tattoo at a time when it might have been frowned upon in China… and she won’t be afraid of Azarenka either.
Li Na is a former US Open winner but she seems twice the player since she took on Justine Henin’s old coach, Carlos Rodriguez.
He is just the man to help Li Na prepare mentally for any more Azarenka gamesmanship. And if Li Na takes another Slam against the odds, just imagine the impact on the game in China!
This is going to be a fascinating match-up – especially psychologically. Azarenka will try every trick in the book to stay world number one ahead of Serena Williams. But don’t be surprised if Li Na pulls off a pleasing upset in another Melbourne thriller.
by Mark Ryan (part of the Mail on Sunday‘s Wimbledon reporting team)