Victoria Azarenka gave an emotional press conference in the aftermath of her Australian Open defeat where she opened up on her recent struggles on and off the court.
The Belarussian won back-to-back grand slams in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013 but it was reflecting on her past achievements and where she is today, following a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 first-round loss to No 110-ranked Laura Siegemund, that brought her to tears.
Azarenka was making her first appearance in Australia since 2016. After giving birth to son Leo in Dec 2016 and then returning to the tour, the 29-year-old had to skip some tournaments while working out a custody dispute with the father of her son. As she opened up on her difficulties, Azarenka used the word ‘struggle’ 12 times.
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my life,” Azarenka said before crying. “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.
“It was very obvious that my game was not there today,” she added. “I’ve been doing a lot of great things in warm-ups and stuff. In matches I think I’m underestimating for not really playing for almost three years on a high level – it’s not easy to continue just out of nowhere to start playing well.”
Then there was another question about comparing her level pre-2016 with where she’s at now.
“Every time you look back you always see the good things and the results. You don’t see the struggle, and the days that you had a bad match but you managed to win,” she said. “It’s hard to compare that with what’s happening right now because the obvious indicator is the result, and the result is not there. So the assumption is the level is not there, but that’s not necessarily the case.”
It feels like such a long time ago to her that she can barely remember what life was like at the top, although she concedes it wasn’t always great.
“Not many people know how difficult 2013 was for me to go out there and play that final,” Azarenka said of her last major title. “It was a nightmare that turned from harmless incident to just headlines, headlines and headlines. That was a difficult part. But results were good, so everybody thinks it was great.
“It was amazing to win those two titles. But you always struggle, and right now it’s just a harder struggle for me.”
Azarenka said she’d go away and work hard on her game, hoping that eventually she’ll relive some of the success of her early career.
“It’s not easy to sit here right now and be positive,” she said, “but I don’t have another choice.”