They Said What? Azarenka on Confidence

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 /by

“I think confidence is overrated. . . always.”Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka, after her three-set, third-round win over No. 31 Kirsten Flipkens.

It’s pretty clear that Azarenka, aka Mrs. Whoooooo!, marches to the beat of a different drummer. She likes to put on the headphones and pull the hoodie up over her head—as if to say, “Move along folks, nothing to see here.”

Those who aren’t satisfied by that message can always google Redfoo, Azarenka’s extra-high profile DJ boyfriend, who’s as ebullient and fond of the limelight as Azarenka is standoff-ish. Once a notorious sorehead who seemed so intent on punishing the ball for the world’s sins that she forgot that you’re supposed to keep the thing between the white lines, Azarenka has become a model of self-control—less problem child than problem solver.

Some would attribute the change, which ultimately elevated her to No. 1, to confidence—but not Azarenka. As the pull-quote suggests, she doesn’t believe in it, which is pretty weird, because if there’s anything like received truth in tennis, it’s that you can’t overrate the importance of confidence.

Oh yeah? Listen to what Azarenka went on to say when a stunned reporter replied to her assertion with the one word question: “Really?”

“You don't win by confidence. You win by your action. You win by finding what you have to do in particular moment. Confidence is just a word for me out there that. . .  It does exist, I think. You know, the way you position yourself, the way you carry yourself. But it's not real to me.”

This attitude points in an interesting direction. For one thing, if confidence is such a critical factor in success, than the lack of confidence must be a huge impediment to it. Legions of players will attest to that idea. How often have you heard a player, male or female, bemoan the state of his or her confidence? Show me a player who’s lost confidence and I’ll show you a walking, talking, double-faulting version of Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream.

If confidence doesn’t really play into your gestalt, you won’t get out of tough situations or win tournaments because of it. But you also won’t lose because you lack it. And that means that you are somewhat spared the trials and tribulations experienced by lesser mortals. It also suggests that your game is less prone to the ups and downs that visit those to whom confidence means a lot. You’re one step closer to something like a tennisbot. As Azarenka said, you’re all about your ability to solve on-court problems with the tools at your disposal, or, your “action(s).”

The idea is somewhat mechanical, which isn’t very romantic. But tennis is essentially a mechanical game based on the endless repetition of a narrow assortment of shots. It’s based on execution. The charge that playing this or that person is like “hitting against the wall” is a deep compliment—even when it’s snidely offered. And let’s face it, a wall doesn’t have—or lack—confidence, which is partly why it always plays the same way. And always wins.

Azarenka’s statement isn’t nearly as baffling as it is iconoclastic. And it probably helps explain why she’s been able to play with such admirable consistency in an era when that talent is in such short supply. And why, even as she was struggling to reach the top, she took those tough losses to top players in stride. She didn’t make the shots, or the other player did. Simple as that. Can anyone doubt that her attitude is one of the reasons she been so consistent—and successful?

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