Azarenka still dreams of winning Wimbledon

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka says she still dreams of winning Wimbledon, despite revealing some of the frustrations and uncertainties she has suffered in the last couple of years.

Repeated injuries have prevented Azarenka from winning a title for 22 months, and she endured an up-and-down first round at the Wimbledon warm-up event in Birmingham on Tuesday.

She was five times within a point of going 0-5 down against Varvara Lepchenko, an American ranked outside the top 30, before fighting back, with a mixture of fierce hitting and varying confidence, to win 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.

Azarenka started to serve commandingly and successfully take risks with ground-stroke attacks whilst whittling away that big leeway.

But she still needed to save a set point at 6-7 in the tie-break, and recover from the disappointment of losing her service break in the second set before prevailing.

“The most important thing I changed was the mindset,” she said. “It can put you down or lift you up. So it is part of your job to choose which way you want to go –- up or down.”

Though some of the Belarusian’s difficulties stemmed from these inner uncertainties, the best elements of her performance suggested that at the age of 25 she could still have significant successes ahead.

A turning point at break point down in the fifth game offered insight into Azarenka’s state of mind, for she stopped mid-rally to request a video replay of a Lepchenko drive only to see it depicted as plumb on the baseline.

That may have caused anger to overcome anxiety, for she responded with a brilliant combination of cross-court ground strokes to get back to deuce, and followed it with two pressurising returns of serve to break.

She was often a different player after that, usually dominating the rallies, though she was helped to make the even more important second service break by an indifferent ninth game by Lepchenko.

This provided Azarenka with a platform for recovery which, despite two further hiccups, she enterprisingly used to raise her game by striking the ball more and more freely.

It was, she concluded, “still a dream” to win Wimbledon.

“It’s everyone’s dream to win it — and it’s definitely still mine.”

She next plays Zarina Diyas, the world number 34 from Kazakhstan, and could have a quarter-final with Karolina Pliskova, the impressively rising world number 12 from the Czech Republic.

– Encouraging form –

Earlier another former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, also made a winning start, though more comfortably than Azarenka.

The Serbian is also making her way back from injuries and overcame Tereza Smitkova, the world number 62 from the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4.

The loquacious Jankovic, a former Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, has not enjoyed a good grass court Grand Slam for four years, and this year is playing two build-up tournaments instead of one to try to put that right.

Here she was in encouraging form both with deeds and words.

“This match went very well. I served very well from the beginning until the end, and I was waiting for my chances to break my opponent,” Jankovic said.

“On grass it’s very important to hold your serve, to serve well, and to strike the first ball and try to be in control of the points. I think I did that very well.

“It was fun to be out there. I have not played well on grass last couple of years, and I’m grateful and delighted that I have gotten the wildcard to play here to prepare better for Wimbledon.”

She next plays Casey Dellacqua, the world number 67 from Australia who was a surprise semi-finalist here last year.


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