Current World No.1 and reigning Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka’s rise to the top has been a steady one but not without its problems. For all her skill and resilience she’s attracted criticism for her displays, making Azarenka a competitive but divisive player.

Looking (slightly) like a young Steffi Graf, Azarenka’s play is effectively one of battering the opposing player into submission. Fierce drives from the baseline and a good backhand puts her in the position of being able to dominate the court. It’s not the most elegant or refined approach but considering the weakness of the WTA at the moment (and it has been considerably weaker over the last few years or so) it stands out. The constant changing of ranking and the lack of form and fitness from prominent players (Sharapova, Clijsters) has created the opportunity for someone to take control of the women’s tour. Azarenka’s determined style makes her one of the frontrunners to do this.

…written in stone…

However it wasn’t always written in stone that she’d reach this point: in 2010 she’d decided to take a break from the game and concentrate on her education. A conversation with her grandmother saw to that and Azarenka came back and won 55 of her 72 engagements in 2011 finishing the year at No.3.

A fiercely committed player who – at least in written interviews – can come across as a bit stiff; her drive to win is impressive to the point where it becomes all-encompassing. A recent quote sums her character succinctly: “I am that kind of person who is never satisfied. I want to always try to do better. It’s not only in tennis, but in life as well. I want to be really competitive and I never want to lose.”

…difficult to derail her…

Having recorded a winning streak of 17 matches in 2012 she’s added a consistency to her game that wasn’t always there. Constantly haranguing her opponents, when she’s confident and on-song it’s difficult to derail her once she begins to launch missiles down the court as Sharapova found out to her detriment in the Australian Open final. She’s become hard to beat and having reached the top, she’s left behind her a trail of controversy.

The ‘noises’ tennis players make has been a topic for discussion for some time with the women’s tour taking on the brunt of criticism. Undoubtedly if you have tuned in to a tennis match you won’t be surprised to hear the crowd mock-feigning the screams/grunts of female players and in Azarenka you have one of the main culprits even if she insists she “cannot change it”. More recently her behaviour on court was called into question for exaggerating an ankle injury against Agnieszka Radwanska. It adds to a laundry list of perceived and real attitude tics that has presented Azarenka as a little immature and testy.

…dominate on the court…

All in all it makes for a fascinating character to watch, one who can dominate on the court but isn’t easily loved. Despite doubts about her and about the quality of the woman’s tour, Azarenka can solve both of these problems by continuing her good form and slowly, but surely, setting a new standard for women’s tennis in what has become a patchy period for female players. She may not be unconditionally loved and judging by her demeanour she may not even care, but if she keeps her levels of consistency she has the opportunity to make a definitive mark on tennis this year.

 

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