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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday October 21, 2020

 
Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka took ownership of her career in 2020 and the results have been inspiring.

Photo Source: AP

A year ago Victoria Azarenka’s tennis was full in doubt.

She had just cut her coaching team loose after tournaments in China, believing that she couldn’t reasonably keep them employed if she wasn’t even sure if she was going to play again. Fast forward a year and Azarenka paints a totally different picture as she sits in Ostrava, playing the final event of what has been a wildly inspiring—and successful—2020 campaign.

Tennis Express

The Belarusian, now a firm fixture in the Top 20 at 14 in the world, is no longer on the fence about her career. If anything, she’s ready to knock the fence down on her way to the Top 10.

Azarenka and her new "lease on tennis life" rambled past Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, on Wednesday in Ostrava to book a quarterfinal appearance. The 31-year-old credits her fighting spirit for the victory.

"More than anything I think my fighting spirit really brought me into the game more, and I started to pick up my game from there," she said. "I think that was a jump start, really my fighting spirit."

The fight may have earned Azarenka her 16th win of this abbreviated season, but it is her willingness to accept change and evolve that has aided the former World No.1 over the course of her finest season since 2016.

Azarenka says that the pandemic forced her to work on her own a bit more. There’s also the fact that her new coach, Frenchman Dorian Descloix, has very limited experience coaching elite players. Azarenka has taken the initiative and taken ownership of her game and her preparation, and it shows in her tennis.

“I felt it was kind of a new way of me also learning how to maybe communicate more at a distance and take a little bit more charge into my own hands," Azarenka said, "and being more kind of disciplined in figuring out what works for me without, kind of doing a bit of work and taking more responsibility for my work for myself, so I think that was really good," she said.

For Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam winner, the ability to play the game was never in doubt. But how to translate that ability into the victories and trophies that she used to pile up like a squirrel storing acorns ahead of winter? She just needed a new perspective to help her get over the issues that have plagued her over the last few seasons.

"I will say this when you are at a certain level and you reach a certain level I feel like you are pretty stubborn to change your ways and your routines," Azarenka says. "Because those things worked and at some point [they] don't work and you need to be brave and courageous to try something new and have belief and confidence that these are the right things that are going to help you get on another level even if they don't seem to work maybe at first.

“So I think that we found this balance of trust and understanding.”

Now that she has hit her stride and is enjoying the process of learning and growing her game again, it appears that the next steps could even be bigger than the ones Azarenka has taken this year. She shocked the tennis world by returning to the final of a Grand Slam for the first time in seven years at this year’s US Open, where she earned her first ever win over Serena Williams at a Grand Slam, in eleven tries.

Then she switched to clay and made a great transition to a surface that has always been difficult for her.

Everything seems to be clicking easier now for the two-time major champion, and she’s eager to keep it rolling. Even this week, where she is slated to face either Elise Mertens or Karolina Muchova in the quarterfinals, she is thinking about what elements of her game she can improve upon in 2021.

"I think at this point I think more about the tournament as, not practice, but having an ability to try things that I want to really work on in the off-season, so I have a bit more of that mentality here,” she said. “I've kind of had that the last two weeks, not necessarily thinking of the future but being able to start something that I can work on."

Azarenka says she plans to take a few well-deserved weeks off after Ostrava, and she’s already making plans about how she will conduct her off-season. It’s a far cry from where she was at a year ago, when retirement was a real possibility, and her turnaround has made her one of the most inspiring stories in tennis in 2020.

It took a long time for Azarenka to find the clarity that she now plays with, but when one reflects on all that she’s been through and had to overcome, from motherhood to her bitter custody battle over her beloved son Leo, it’s understandable that things were blocked a bit.

But she's unblocked now, and another thrilling chapter of a Hall of Fame career is written. As the sun sets on 2020, it looks like it could be a new beginning -- call it Azarenka, Part 2.

Sakkari Topples Svitolina and Mertens Stops Anisimova

Maria Sakkari earned her fourth career Top 5 win with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Elina Svitolina on Wednesday, the Greek earning her 19th win of the season and setting a quarterfinal clash with either Ons Jabeur or Jelena Ostapenko.

Sakkari, 23, says she’s confident playing on indoor hard courts, despite what she’s been told about her potential on the surface by many people.

"When I was starting my career I had people telling me that I cannot play indoors, which was, you know, a big mistake [by me] listening to them,” she said. “I now have proven myself. I have a semis indoors, I've beaten very good indoors players in St. Petersburg and here. I've developed my game the way that I can now be dangerous indoors as well, my serve is big, I'm playing a little bit more aggressive, so I'm super happy I have proven these people wrong."

Elise Mertens knocked off American Amanda Anisimova to tie Elena Rybakina atop the WTA’s match win list for 2020 with 29 (29-11). The Belgian, who notched a 6-3, 6-3 win over the 19-year-old, can take sole possession on the win list tomorrow when she faces Karolina Muchova.

Other winners on Wednesday were Jelena Ostapenko, who stopped fifth-seeded Petra Martic 6-3, 6-1, and Sara Sorribes Tormo, who upset eighth-seeded Anett Kontaveit, 6-1, 6-4.

 

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