Victoria Azarenka says her rivalry with Serena Williams is making her a better tennis player.
Victoria Azarenka says she’s thriving on the challenge of being Serena Williams’ major rival in women’s tennis heading into 2014.
Preparing to defend her Australian Open crown, world No.2 Azarenka could resume hostilities with Williams as soon as Saturday’s final of the Brisbane International.
There’s a big gap between them in the world rankings, with 17-time grand slam champion Williams on 13,260 points to her 8046, and Williams leads their head to head battles 13-3.
But Azarenka, eight years the younger, has the comfort of knowing she inflicted two of the only four defeats Williams suffered this year.
While others may be intimidated by the imposing Williams, the Belarussian says she enjoys the growing rivalry.
“I think it’s great, first of all, to be a part of that rivalry because it really helps you to grow as a player, as a person,” Azarenka said on Monday.
“You learn things about yourself and what you need to improve, because when somebody is taking you to the limit you really have a good look at what you have to do better to rise up.
“I definitely enjoy that and love tough competition. To take that challenge for me every time is very exciting. That’s what I wake up for and train hard for.”
Azarenka has a favourable draw at the Brisbane International but Williams has a tougher road and is likely to meet world No.4 Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals.
Azarenka refuses to dwell on the controversial chain of events that marred her Australian Open triumph in January.
She called a controversial medical time-out controversy as she struggled to put away American Sloane Stephens in their semi-final.
The crowd subsequently turned on Azarenka during the final against China’s crowd darling Li Na, and heckled her several times before she launched a gutsy comeback victory to win back-to-back titles at Melbourne Park.
It wasn’t purely tears of joy when she accepted the winner’s trophy.
Asked on Monday if she had any trepidation in returning to Australia, Azarenka played a straight racquet.
“Every year I look so much forward to coming here,” she said.
“It’s one of my favourite places to play. I’ve loved it since I was a junior.”
Brisbane fans were disappointed last year when Azarenka was forced to pull out of her Brisbane International semi-final against Williams due to a toe injury following a pedicure gone wrong.
This week Williams talked of being scared of tripping on stairs in her hotel room and rolling her ankle while Azarenka is taking a similarly cautious approach to her feet.
Asked if she would be getting a pedicure, Azarenka said: “I mean, I will definitely, but not at the same place. And very careful, you know.
“Just some things you can’t control, but you definitely learn from them.
“If you make this mistake once, it’s shame on that. But if you do it twice, it’s shame on you.”