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Victoria Azarenka

 

Victoria Azarenka has to be exhausted. The newly-crowned Australian Open champion plonked herself down in a patio chair outside the players’ café in the late-morning sun on Sunday, just over 12 hours after her dramatic three-set win over Li Na in the women’s singles final that ended a whirlwind two-week stint at Melbourne Park.

But if she is tired, Vika isn’t showing it.

“It’s been like a rollercoaster,” said the two-time Slam champ, who had just come from a photoshoot with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

“But it was a great experience … I came here not to defend, I came here to win another title. Last year was such a special moment that ever since it happened I wanted to feel that again.”

Those feelings came pouring out on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena, in heaving, gasping sobs – not of anger or frustration or sadness, but pure and unadulterated joy. Azarenka’s win meant she not only defended her title Down Under, but also retained the No.1 ranking.

“This one is way more emotional,” she said of the win. “It's gonna be extra special for me, for sure.”

It was not an easy journey for Azarenka, who came under fire for the medical timeout she took in her semifinal win over Sloane Stephens, a break that many saw as gamesmanship when she explained on court after the win that she almost had “the choke of the year.”

But Azarenka spent much of Friday clearing the air from the debacle and came into Saturday’s final as the challenger to crowd favourite Li, who has become a darling in Australia.

“Everything that happens in life is to teach you a lesson,” she mused.

“It’s not ironic – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – that song. From everything bad or wrong that happens, I try to take the most positive that happens. In that particular moment you think, ‘What can I take positive from here?’ In the moment you try to stay positive … I guess I’m pretty tough.”

Azarenka laughed at that last statement, her admission making her giggle. Yet her steely approach on the court has scored her 21 straight wins, capturing four titles in total over the last two Januarys.

It’s her team – comprised of coach Sam Sumyk, manager Meilen Tu, publicist Benito Barbadillo and the ever-present Redfoo – that Vika says has helped carry to Australian glory.

“It is only me playing there, but I know that I have my team around me,” Vika said.

“They’re like my family. They’re taking care of me and helping me and keeping me strong. The last couple of years we are really connecting together and moving forward all the time. So, it’s always special.”

Extra special for the girl from Belarus who moved to the United States as a young kid, the sport of tennis promising her everything but awarding her nothing – yet. With her win on Saturday night, she joined an elite group – along with Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova – as multiple-Slam winners on tour.

“To be in the same list with all those champions, it’s a privilege,” Azarenka reflected. “Right now it’s hard to believe that. I think of myself as a nine-year-old girl who’s playing against the wall, picturing those big moments. Right now I’m still living those moments. It’s like a dream.”

There were parts of her AO 2013 that felt more like a nightmare, namely the firestorm that followed her semifinal.

“I think [the way I was treated] was a little bit unfair, but I always give people the benefit of the doubt,” Azarenka said.

“Maybe nobody gave that to me … It’s my job to show my personality. It’s always been there but I don’t do that for the public. It’s just who I am.”

Part of who Azarenka is also lies in her faith, which she displays with a small golden chain necklace anchored with a small cross.

“I’m Orthodox [Catholic],” Azarenka said, fiddling with the piece of jewelry. “Everybody has their own faith and their own belief on different levels. God makes everyone stronger. I think about being a good person.”

For Azarenka, the next step isn’t winning a single Slam, it’s winning all of them, a goal she says is constructed in small moments, point by point by point.

“You cannot prefer one [Slam] over the other because they are so different … it’s really hard,” Azarenka explained.

“I don’t rate my chances. I never look at statistics, I just try and make it happen.”

Which – from what we’ve seen so far – is something she never tires of achieving. 

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