It was about this time last year just before Christmas there were rumours circulating Victoria Azarenka could be about to retire.
The Belarusian was a notable name not on the original entry lists for the Australian Open but no one knew why. The camp was quiet, there wasn’t anything being said. We glimpses over Vika on social media practicing at the Mouratoglou Academy but no idea when we’d see her return to the match court.
On the 3rd of March we saw Victoria Azarenka back on a tennis court, it did last long for the two time major champion 2-6 2-6 to Tamara Zidansk in Monterrey. An opportunity to build match rhythm had gone as 9 days later Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic and Tennis stopped.
6 months later Tennis resumed, Vika turned up at a new event in Kentucky and lost 2-6 3-6 to Venus Williams. She was keen to find some form in New York and in the warm-up of the rearranged and temporary re-housing of Cincinnati she got a first win in 376 days.
It began good for Vika with a comfortable win over Donna Vekic but it got rightly better. She saw off Vekic, Cornet, Garcia and Jabeur playing lights out tennis. In the semi-finals she fought from a set down against Konta to win and won in a walkover as Osaka pulled out injured in the final.
The level of tennis at the US Open following this triumphant week got better and better, it was ‘Vintage Vika’ the forehand was absolutely on fire and the belief in her game was there for all to see. She handed out breadsticks for fun and looked back to her very best.
A moment of history in the semi-finals as the Belarusian who had been handing out 6-1 score lines was on the receiving end of one to Serena Williams and facing an uphill battle. In their previous ten Grand Slam matches against each other between these two rivals but good friends Serena had won all ten but number eleven was another major comeback from Azarenka who won 1-6 6-3 6-3 to win against Serena for the first time.
It was also a win which had a lot attached to it, Vika began her year working at Patrick Mouratoglou’s Academy who is of course Serena’s coach and it was Patrick who helped put together Vika’s new team led by academy coach Dorian Descloix.
The win over Serena led to Vika’s first major final in 7 years and 5 days and she looked back to herself, it sadly wasn’t meant to be in the final but another week of positives for Azarenka.
She continued her good form into the end of the season, it didn’t work out for her in Paris but in Rome we saw the ruthless tennis of a 6-0 6-0 win over Kenin and that Motherly side of her comforting an injured Daria Kasatkina which was lovely to see.
Her season ended with a defeat in the final of Ostrava to Sabalenka but it was a year with plenty to smile about.
Vika was smiling again and it was magnificent to see. It was even better we could watch this success in these difficult times and with her son court side it was a special moment for her and for tennis.
It was at the start of last year I was in Melbourne and saw Victoria Azarenka break down in a press conference following a first round loss and said:
“Sitting here today, I failed but I’m struggling. Failing is when you give up and you don’t try again but I’m struggling, if I’m going to going to struggle to get out of that, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, sometimes I wonder why I go through them but I think they’re going to make me stronger. I want to believe that and I’m going to work hard for it.”
“Sometimes I just need a little time and patience and a little support”
She did that this year and I can’t wait to see her back on the court next year.