By Blair Henley / August 24, 2013
World No. 2 Victoria Azarenka has been a fixture on the pre-U.S. Open event circuit, lighting the Empire State Building with Billie Jean King and walking the “green carpet” at the BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis. But it was her time spent with young fans in Harlem this week that truly showed her passion for growing the game.
Azarenka joined the Citizen Watch Company in hosting a citywide scavenger hunt followed by a clinic for underserved youth in the area. Wide-eyed and enthusiastic, the children asked the 24-year-old star questions – What’s it like beating Serena Williams? Do you like playing in front of big crowds? – before hitting the courts for some tennis drills. Azarenka turned out to be quite the hands-on coach!
The Belarusian spoke with the media following the clinic, discussing her status as a U.S. Open favorite as well as the “personality” of her most famous asset.
How do events like this change your perspective?
It kind of brings me back from where I started. There is still that excitement that I have seeing young generation girls and boys who love tennis and play tennis. It’s something really exciting. The community [is] growing to love tennis with the Open being here, but all the other communities [are] also growing. I’m really happy to be there and participate in such events.
Does this help to take your mind off of the week ahead?
I don’t think about that right now. Of course, I’m here for the Open, but today I’m here for this cause, and I’m here 100 percent to be a model to grow our sport. But I’m really excited about the Open. You know, I see the kids excited about the Open. The whole city is buzzing. It’s really fun to be here.
How tough is it to be one of the favorites going into a Grand Slam?
I never expect anything really to happen. I don’t think of myself as a favorite. I just think of myself as a competitor. There of 128 players, and I’m just one of them. We all start from zero; we all start from the first round. And it doesn’t matter which ranking you are, you’re still going go play the first round, and you have to be there 100 percent. There are a lot of upsets, a lot of different matches, so [you have to be] 100 percent from the first point that you step on the court.
You had some pretty great reactions on the court in Cincinnati. You don’t seem to take yourself too seriously. How important is that in your line of work?
I take myself sometimes too seriously, but my edgy, funky personality comes out in that way. Actually one of the media women from the WTA told me, “It’s like your butt has a whole other personality!” I thought that was really funny. It is true! You’re so in the zone that I don’t notice those things. I’ve been told I do that, but I never noticed it. Now there is proof!
So you just laugh at yourself?
Nobody is going to make more fun of me that I can [make] of myself. So I would rather just [make] fun of myself and let people enjoy that because I enjoy that, too!
How important was that win against Serena in Cincinnati coming into New York?
It was important to play that tournament with the highest competitors there. And to play against the No. 1 player in the world in the final? That’s the best thing you can ask for to have that test. I couldn’t have asked for better preparation.
How is your knee feeling after the fall at Wimbledon?
It’s fine. I went through a tough rehab, but it’s all good now. I’m healthy and excited to play!