'I think I'm not a bad player, so I know how to win matches', Victoria Azarenka rekindles competitive fire in Miami

Leye Aduloju in WTA 28 Mar 2018
  • Despite playing very little tennis over the last two years, Victoria Azarenka has launched a brilliant resurgence in Miami
  • Azarenka takes on Sloane Stephens in the semi-finals of the Miami Open on Thursday, 29 March.
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Miami at Unibet > sports > tennis
Victoria Azarenka. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Victoria Azarenka has played very little tennis in the last couple of years, but that has not stopped the fiery Belarusian from composing a superb run in Miami. Can she go on to claim a fourth title at the event?

WTA Miami Open tennis is live from Miami from 19 March - 1 April 
Watch and bet on tennis live from Miami at Unibet > sports > tennis

Azarenka is playing just her second tournament in eight months, but you wouldn’t know that on the basis of her performances this week- the former world number one has looked like she has never been away from the sport!

The 28-year-old has always enjoyed good success in Miami- she is a three-time champion at the event- but given the amount of time she had spent away from tennis, it seemed almost improbable that she would be competing for the 2018 title. But that is exactly what she is doing. The two-time major winner hasn’t been gifted a cakewalk of a draw, she has instead come through a treacherous route to stand just two wins away from a stunning success in Miami. 

Since completing the Sunshine Double in Miami in 2016, Azarenka has played just seven WTA tournaments, including the 2018 Miami Open. Soon after she retired hurt from her opening round meeting with Karin Knapp at Roland Garros 2016, Azarenka announced that she was pregnant; and she wouldn’t play again for over a year. She made her return to the tour in the summer of 2017, competing in Mallorca and Wimbledon, but she then embarked on another lengthy break due to a drawn-out custody dispute with her former partner, Billy McKeague, who reportedly split with the Belarusian soon after Wimbledon. 

With a court order preventing either parent from taking their child, Leo, outside California, and Azarenka unwilling to leave him behind, the two-time Grand Slam champion was unable to travel, thus missing out on several tournaments. She made her return to the tour at Indian Wells, and after getting her eye in with a couple of matches (she lost in the second round to Sloane Stephens), the world number 186 has been on the march in Miami, taking out CiCi Bellis, Madison Keys, Anastasija Sevastova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova en route the semis. Pliskova is currently ranked in the top six, Keys and Sevastova are top-20 players, while Radwanska is a former Miami champion, former Grand Slam finalist and former world number two. That is the quality Azarenka has taken out over the last fortnight.

Maybe we shouldn’t really be surprised by Azarenka’s form in Miami. 

Serena Williams has been the best player in the world over the last decade, but Victoria Azarenka, at her prime, was arguably the best of the rest. Of all her contemporaries, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki included, Azarenka was the one who didn’t appear overawed by Serena, famously stretching the legendary American to three sets in consecutive US Open finals in 2012 and 2013. Like she reminded everyone after Tuesday’s victory over Pliskova, “I think I'm not a bad player, so I know how to win matches”. 

The Belarusian retains all the qualities that took her to No. 1 in the world and two Grand Slam titles- she is not the biggest server out there, but she makes up for that with wonderful returning; excellent movement; aggression and solidity off the ground- a very good blend of attack and defence.

Let’s not forget: Her inactivity hasn’t been caused by an injury or illness, but rather by an unfortunate legal dispute; thus, she has been practicing all the while. The time off court might also have given her the opportunity to work on other aspects of her game. 

Beyond her attributes as a tennis player, Azarenka has carved a career around an indefatigable competitive spirit, which continues to thrive, despite the problems in her personal life. Her schedule after Miami remains uncertain because of the ongoing dispute, but the Belarusian is keen to make the most out of this opportunity. 

"The possibility of winning the title is always in my head. That's why I play. I don't come to a tournament just to play”.

Next up for Azarenka is a semi-final against Sloane Stephens, in a repeat of last year’s Indian Wells second-round meeting, which Stephens won in straight sets. Not that Azarenka needed any external motivation, but the chance for revenge is bound to push the fiery Belarusian even harder in Thursday’s semi-final!

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"I think I'm not a bad player, so I know how to win matches", Victoria Azarenka rekindles competitive fire in Miami

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