Victoria Azarenka said changing her mindset and conquering her anxiety had paved the way for her return to the semi-finals of the Australian Open after a dominant victory over third seed Jessica Pegula on Tuesday.
The 2012 and 2013 champion was at her aggressive best on Rod Laver Arena to beat her American opponent 6-4 6-1 and said later that she had been dealing with a fear of failure in the last few months and the problem had started to escalate.
“I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything I feel good about myself, not even one sentence. I broke a few racquets after my match in Ostrava (in October). That was a tough moment for me,” Azarenka told reporters.
“From then, I tried to take it more simple. I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative. Accepting the anxiety that I have. Accepting the fear that I have. Working through it. That was step by step.
“I kept trying to go a step forward, another challenge. I learned how to start to build a process that is step by step instead of jumping to conclusions in the situation... which is pretty hard to do.
“But I’m pretty happy that the process I’m going through makes me feel confident about myself, happy about myself, and helps me to be more open, be more accepting, be compassionate. ‘Compassionate’ was a hard word for me to understand.”
Azarenka was asked if going through the process of dealing with her anxiety helped her understand her problems in 2013 when she had to fend off accusations of gamesmanship after her semi-final win over Sloane Stephens at Melbourne Park.
The Belarusian had taken a near-10 minute medical timeout after blowing five match points and denied the charge following her win, saying she needed treatment for a rib injury that had affected her breathing during a tense phase of the match.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through in my professional career,” Azarenka said.
“The way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. because people didn’t want to believe me.
“There’s sometimes an incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written. But we’re not villains, we’re not heroes, we’re regular human beings that go through so many things.
“It didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it didn’t cut through. Actually it’s funny that you’re saying that because I was thinking about it. It took me 10 years to get over it. I’m finally over that.”
Azarenka faces Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the last four -- a battle between the last two Grand Slam champions left in the draw.
“She’s powerful. Big serve. She’s in the semi-final, so she’s playing amazing. She had tough wins,” Azarenka said. “It’s going to be a big challenge. I’m excited about that.”