By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday January 6, 2021
As a tennis career unfolds over a decade or more, evolution is the concept that can keep a player relevant. Adapt to the ever changing demands of the court, and success can be maintained, even elevated. Victoria Azarenka, a full decade after winning her maiden Australian Open title, is full embracing the change.
The 32-year-old told reporters on Thursday in Adelaide, where she is Into the quarterfinals in singles and semifinals in doubles, that she hardly remembers the emotion she felt ten years ago, when she rose to the pinnacle of the sport. But she does find it incredible that she’s still here now, loving the sport as much as she ever did, albeit for different reasons.
“It’s pretty incredible that 10 years later I’m still here,” the former World No.1 and current No.27 said. “I love the game. I want to play. I want to improve. I have my son here who’s watching me, is motivating me. There’s a lot of things that are incredible.
“I’m not sure it feels like it’s been 10 years ago. I think the time kind of flies by. I definitely appreciate it a lot, always going to be grateful for that. I don’t hold on to the past because I believe that it doesn’t leave enough space for what I can do now and in the future.”
Letting go of the past—even a ridiculously successful one—has been the key for Azarenka as she looks to climb back up the WTA’s ladder of success as one of the senior members of the tour.
A once dominant player that has spent 51 weeks atop the WTA’s rankings, Azarenka wouldn’t be faulted if she continued on the same path. But credit the Belarusian, a forward thinking seeker who dreads the thought of staying still, for looking for ways to reinvent her game.
“I hope I don’t stay the same throughout I don’t know how many years I’ve been on the tour,’ she said. “I think evolution of my game is pretty visible right now over the last few years. I feel like I am trying to adapt to also new generation. There’s a lot of young talents coming. Cannot stay still and be stuck in 2012 and 2013.
Azarenka has already reaped the benefits of her open-mindedness. Her new mental approach to the sport helped her reach the US Open final in 2020—it was her first trip to a Grand Slam final in seven years.
Even if there was no follow-through statistically in 2021, Azarenka feels that she’s in a better place now.
“I definitely feel like I’ve grown a lot, and I don’t have the same approach as I had last year or two years ago,” she said. “I think that’s too [static]. Is that the word? I try to always kind of look for something that can help me to learn and grow. I think the learning process for me is the most important.”
It’s remarkable to see Azarenka inspired and in hot pursuit of a revival. Already a lock to make the Hall of Fame, the Belarusian doesn’t want to rest on her laurels. She wants to find a way to get the most out of herself, and her tennis, in the years to come.
Last year she began to take a different approach to the sport, insisting on moving forward, and taking a more aggressive stance. It’s a work in progress to make such changes, but it is right in Azarenka’s wheelhouse psychologically. She’s all about evolution, and would much prefer to thrive on tour than to simply survive.
“For me was really important the way I was able to kind of shift my mindset in a way to learn to be more bold, to be more open-minded, to try new things, not back off when it doesn’t work maybe the first try,” she said of her 2021 season. “I think that was the positive that I took from the end of the season kind of moving forward.
“The focus is always kind of the same: What can I add to my game? I think my focus kind of end of the season was already trying to implement new things: coming into the net, using my serve more, being more aggressive, movement, efficient movement.”
The season is young, but in many ways, Azarenka is treating 2022 as a continuation of 2022. So far, so good with that.
“I feel like I just kind of laid the groundwork end of the season and continued just making more repetitions on that. Always try to push a little bit more,” she said. “I think physically at this stage it’s very important for me to be very smart about my training schedule, which is also another learning curve of adjustment.
“Yeah, I think the groundwork for kind of implementing new things was laid last season. .