The Belarus Lady
by Bobby Chintapalli, Contributing WriterVictoria Azarenka is no Yanina Wickmayer, but she’s not exactly lacking in the intensity department either. The Belarusian lost in the first round to a resurgent Ana Ivanovic but is still alive in doubles. She and partner Maria Kirilenko take on the No. 2 doubles seeds, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, tonight in Cincinnati in what fans point out will be an aesthetically-pleasing doubles semifinal.
But back to the intensity. Watching her stomping around the court (and on Ana Ivanovic’s dreams) in the first set of her first match, you could see it in the forceful groundstrokes she literally throws herself into and you could certainly hear it in the loud, long whoos.
In fact, by the fourth game of that match, the sixtysomething gentlemen sitting behind me had started feeling sorry for Ivanovic.
“That girl’s no match for the Belarus lady,” said one of Ivanovic.
“Give her some encouragement,” added his friend. “The girl’s unranked, so she’s pretty far down in the food chain.”
Down 1-4 Ivanovic hit a short, high ball. As Azarenka made her way to the net, there was this: “She’s going to kill it.”
Azarenka did just that, but she’s no Angelina Jolie-esque assassin. It’s not hard to realize that when you’re sitting right above her coach, as I did in the second and third sets of that match. You see her frequent looks over to him—sometimes angry, often unsure—and you get a sense there’s some Twinkie cream under that hard shell. Is that partly why her coach cheers Azarenka on when she’s on his side of the court?
There was this when Azarenka was up 6-5 in the second set: “Good legs, Vika. Come on—keep it up.”
In the second-set tiebreak, which Azarenka lost, there was a “no rush, Vika” and the more Zen “right here, right mind.”
Looking over at Azarenka and seeing me jotting all this down, the laughing, drinking—and very entertaining—ladies next to me insisted, “She’s dramatic—put that in there.” She is that.
But she can be personable too, in a way that Wickmayer doesn’t try to be or perhaps can’t manage, especially on the practice court. You can see it in the way she greets Francesca Schiavone with a “nice to see you—you are always smiling” or the way she exchanges pleasantries with an identically-dressed Lucie Safarova. (Both wore pink Nike shorts and the same Nike ‘Just Do It’ t-shirt; luckily it was practice, not the prom.)
The pink is fitting, too, because Azarenka can be downright girly, even during a match. Up 6-2, 6-5 in the doubles quarterfinals, in which she and Kirilenko beat Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, Azarenka was close to the net as Mirza prepared to hit an overhead. Azarenka turned around in place, jumped up and down like she just saw a big bug and put her hands up by her head. Mirza won the point, Azarenka lived to tell the story and the crowd had a good laugh.
At Azarenka? With Azarenka? It was almost surely the latter, but you can’t be sure when it comes to Victoria Azarenka. It’s hard to figure out the Belarus lady. Maybe that’s why you can’t look away.