Victoria Azarenka regained the top spot in women's tennis this week, courtesy of her semi-final finish at Wimbledon and former No. 1 Maria Sharapova's early exit.
Vika's been having an amazing year. She won her first Slam at the Australian Open. She was the champion at Doha and Indian Wells. She was runner-up at Stuttgart and Madrid.
But am I, or much of the rest of the tennis world, excited about this? TennisNow.com summed it up for me. Nope.
Despite having her best season ever, Azarenka continues to be a divisive figure in the sport. Though she doesn't suffer the legitimacy issues that former No. 1's Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki dealt with for not having won a Major, Azarenka's surly reputation both on the court and off has apparently rubbed too many people the wrong way.
So, I'm not the only one who hasn't cottoned to Azarenka. According to TennisNow.com, few fans attend her early round matches. Reporters don't like her, either.
Many in the media are simply not interested in covering her as made apparent by Azarenka's often almost empty press conferences and sometimes not even being requested at all for interviews during events unless she reaches the final weekend.
Following her semi-final victory over Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells last March, just two reporters showed up for the post-match interview: BBC Sport's Jonathan Overend and, as he put it, "the guy from the Palm Desert Bugle." They asked her four questions, two of which pertained to the match. The other two had to do with her mannerisims on court.
- "Sometimes when you hit a winner, you shout 'Allez' and sometimes it's 'Come on.' Mix it up?" [Oh, boy. Really, guys, that's all you've got?]
- "If Sharapova wins this match [the other semi-final, which she did], any thoughts on who might be the loudest in the finals?"
Maybe it's Azarenka's high-pitched "Whooooooooh!" that predisposes people against her. Fans made fun of her signature sound at, of all places, the very proper All England Lawn and Tennis Club during Wimbledon. Reporters asked her about it, after rubbing her nose in her semi-final loss to Serena Williams.
Q. ....Horrible day for you today.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Thanks for bringing it up and putting me down. I appreciate that.
Q. Early in the match the crowd appeared to be laughing almost at some of the noises you make when you unleash your groundstrokes. Did you notice it at all? Did it upset you at all?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: No. Why would it upset me? You know, you guys make such a big deal out of it, it's a little bit already boring to read all the news. You know, I think everybody does different kind of noises. But, you know, what can you do?
Q. We've not noticed that happen on Centre Court here before.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I've noticed it everywhere. Men also grunt really loud.
Q. I meant the crowd's reaction.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yeah, maybe you weren't at every match.
Vika aces a retort up the T! Or in this case, up the arse of reporters, whose questions she often dubs as "silly." She's right, sometimes they are, but that's not the way to win friends and influence enemies. Especially those very influential enemies in the press room.
Nobody likes you when you're arrogant. Vika sported a tee-shirt with the slogan, "Unstoppable," after winning Indian Wells. And nobody wants to be around you when you're surly. This is something I should take to heart, not just Vika. As you know, fellow Haters, my attitude on the court is not always perky. I've been known to let loose a stream of words, ones you'd never hear on public radio, when I make a mistake. That's got to be as annoying as Vika's screeching, especially for the little kids taking their first "let's-get-excited-about-tennis!" lessons on the next court. "Mommy, why does tennis make that lady say bad words?"
I can get curt during changeovers. I don't want to talk about my summer vacation or get tips on my service toss or hear about how your backhand has disappeared. (No, wait, that's a good tip.) I'm too busy trying to steer my tiny little boatload of confidence through a stormy sea of fear.
I'm torn about how to behave when competing. Some of my Worthy Opponents in the local USTA leagues chat you up before and during the game. Others don't acknowlege you at all.
Then there's my husband. Mark's got a habit of commenting on his game or my game while we're taking a break, dispensing little brain worms like, "Boy, I can hit great shots when I just keep my eye on the ball!" or, "Hey, you're serving well." The former makes me jealous, and I start making errors, trying to show him I can hit great shots, too. The latter makes me self-conscious, and I end up double faulting and getting broken. This is when I start muttering those swear words, Haters. Loud enough so he can hear.
I'd like to be like Roger Federer in my demeanor. He's been known to let out a big "Argh!" when his backhand sails, but two flicks of his hair later, and he's back in the court, not in his head. He doesn't showboat when he wins a big point. No lawn mower moves like Nadal, no fist-bump-to-the-chest like Djokovic, just a good, throaty, "COME ON!." He acts like he's a winner, regardless of whether the score shows it.
Nobody loves you when you're surly, but everyone respects you when you respect yourself.