Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka has recently revealed it’s taken her “10 f—— years to get over” the incident with Sloane Stephens during a semi-final match in 2013 at Melbourne Park.
On Tuesday night, Azarenka booked herself another semi-final opportunity at the 2023 edition of the Grand Slam after defeating Jessica Pegula and was asked about the Stephens episode post-match.
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The 33-year-old – who at the time was highly criticised for taking a medical timeout – expressed that she felt like a ‘villain’ in the eyes of the crowd and likened that feeling to what 21-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic has said.
“It was one of the worst things that I’ve ever gone through in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. at night because people didn’t want to believe me,” Azarenka said post-match on Tuesday night.
“I actually can resonate with what Novak said the other day. There is sometimes, like, I don’t know, incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written.
“But we’re not villains, we’re not heroes, we are regular human beings that go through so many, many things. Assumptions and judgments, all those comments, are just shit because nobody’s there to see the full story. It didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through.”
The Belarusian would advance past Stephens during the 2013 semi-final and would go on to win the Australian Open days later.
Azarenka took two time-outs during a critical period of the match, with ‘assumptions’ they were taken to halt the momentum of the American.
The 33-year-old said at the time that she was having “chest pains” and was finding it hard to breathe.
Since then, the Belarusian has struggled to make waves in the tennis circuit, featuring once in the final four after the 2013 season.
Azarenka made the 2020 US Open final but failed at the final hurdle against Naomi Osaka.
The former world No.1 has opened up about her battles with anxiety and the ‘fears of failing’ but has since found ways to overcome these troubles.
“I kind of tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative,” she said.
“Accepting the anxiety that I have. Accepting the fear that I have. Kind of working through it. That was step by step.”
Azarenka will face 22nd seed Elena Rybakina on Thursday at Rod Laver Arena for a spot in the Australian Open final.