A woman of so many different talents, it is a wonder Victoria Azarenka has time to play tennis but somehow Belarus’s favourite polymath has managed to find enough time in her busy schedule to ease her way into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. So much to do, so little time ...
Azarenka booked her place in the last eight with a simple 6-1 6-1 win over Elena Vesnina. On paper, it looks like a one-sided clobbering, and against an opponent with a dodgy back and gammy left leg, it was fairly simple, but our renaissance woman knows she will have to up her game if she is to defend her title here. Those 57 minutes in Rod Laver Arena were not her best by any means, but they were more than good enough to get the job done. And that is all that mattered on Monday.
For a start, there was the small matter of seven double faults – that will never do against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the next round. Her first serve percentage was not looking too clever, either (she had a 56 per cent accuracy rating) but when she did get the first delivery in play, she tended to win the point. On the other side of the net, Vesnina was having a nightmare: she could get the ball in play at the first time of asking, but then developed a nasty habit of mucking up what came next.
Realising that she needed to up her game, the world No.1 ramped up the volume on her trademark wail and headed for the finish line. It may not have been pretty but how could anyone argue with a 6-1 6-1 battering of the world No.47?
“It’s getting there,” Azarenka said. “With every match, you build up for the tough battles to come.”
The next battle will be fascinating. Kuznetsova is making her way back from a knee injury that cost her the second half of last season. Back on court again with a new clothing contract, she feels like she has been given a new lease of life. Her six months off was her first ever break from tennis and it gave her a chance to recharge her batteries. Now, fit and raring to go, she disposed of Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 2-6 7-5.
So, how will Azarenka prepare for this new challenge? Well, she readied herself for the Vesnina showdown by spending most of Sunday tinkling the ivories. Trying to teach herself to play the electric keyboard, she locked herself in her room with her best friend and got stuck into her practice.
“We played four hands,” Azarenka explained. “I’m trying to learn Heart And Soul and we played pretty much all day.”
And if you are worried about what the neighbours thought about this, fear not. “My coach stays next door to me and he never complained,” Azarenka said. And then she stopped and thought about it. “He’d better not complain!” she added, sounding rather fierce.
When she isn’t playing tennis or playing the piano, Azarenka loves cooking. Fish, apparently, is favourite, especially when cooked with chilli and tabasco, although she can’t quite remember the recipe. “All I can remember is cranberries,” she admitted. It certainly sounded like a novel dish. Who knows, perhaps that doyen of cooking programmes and regular visitor to Melbourne Park, Matt Preston, might give her a spot on his next show.
Kuznetsova, though, is taking nothing for granted. Azarenka may be spreading her talents thinly at the moment, but Kuzzy knows that she will have a match on her hands when next they meet.
“I think she just got calmer,” Kuznetsova said. “She's consistent. She works differently. She has different goals, I guess. I guess she's just consistent overall. She improve definitely in many shots. But I think it was her head was letting her down all the time before. Some moments she always would go crazy in the match. You would always know. She changed and just became so stable, and, yeah, good hitter.”
And that is why Azarenka is the world No.1. Now if she could just get that middle eight down pat and stop her buerre blanc from splitting, her week will be complete. So much to do, so little time...