Brisbane will prove Azarenka level for 2013

Is that a sweatband I see Victoria?

Is that a sweatband I see Victoria?

Has anyone seen Victoria Azarenka’s new television advert for a well-known timepiece company? Numerous shots of the 23-year-old gliding across the Melbourne court en route to her first ever Grand Slam victory last year provide intense watching as a smooth voiceover explains just how perfect she is.

Apparently a watch that ‘never runs out’ makes all the difference to her game – its so good that its actually invisible on her wrist during the match. the comparison between an ‘unstoppable’ timepiece and Azarenka is justifiable when considering her 2012 Australian Open triumph. For Azarenka was unstoppable that fortnight in Melbourne and the world number one’s performance rightly suggested she ‘shows no sign of slowing down’.

Yet Azarenka has not been completely infallible this season, despite what her expensive wristwatch suggests. For the Belarusian has suffered somewhat since that Australian triumph and failed to capitalise on her early-season form that saw her win the first four tournaments of the year.

2012 season, (almost) all downhill since Melbourne

Azarenka played to watch-like precision between January and early March. She claimed the Sydney title in emphatic fashion – dropping just two sets all week – before powerhousing to the final in Melbourne where she consummately outplayed Maria Sharapova 6-3 6-0.

Shorty after came Doha, where she didn’t drop a single set despite playing Agnieszka Radwanska and Sam Stosur in the semis and final; before Indian Wells, where the Belarusian conquered Sharapova yet again to pick up four WTA titles in two months.

Yet since then Azarenka’s season has not gone to plan and as we enter the winter offseason she must be wondering how that momentum from Melbourne did not conspire domination on the WTA circuit. Two final losses came before a disastrous Rome, where she withdrew in the third round because of a shoulder injury.

Serving at Roland GarrosPhoto: Création CARAVEO

Serving at Roland Garros
Photo: Création CARAVEO

This problem persisted and she made just the fourth round of Roland Garros, skipping all competition before Wimbledon where she gracefully fell in the semis to a new adversary: Serena Williams.

Unfortunately for Azarenka, her 2012 summer decline began at the same time Williams’ rose. She lost to the American 6-1 6-2 in the semis at the Olympics and over three sets at the final of the US Open. Those two major defeats effectively cut 2012 short and Azarenka, although winning a couple more tour titles, went into the end-of-season comforted only by her world number one ranking.

Building for Australia and beyond

So what now for Azarenka as she heads into 2013? She must have learnt a lot from this major breakthrough season yet her early schedule for 2013 suggests preparations for Australia will be a lot different from last year. For instead of Sydney she is down to play Brisbane, a tournament that finishes closer to Melbourne but is played with greater intensity, with eight of the world top 10 in the event.

Her decision to play Brisbane expresses a new stance in Azarenka’s game. She could just play Sydney again, pick up a lower-ranked title and go into Melbourne on a high. However, in opting to face her fellow title rivals Azarenka is testing the water before the first major of the year.

Australia Open 2011Photo: n.hewson

Australia Open 2011
Photo: n.hewson

This is a good move on her part. The WTA tour success of last year has made her a good player but to become great she must claim Slams this campaign.

As the world number one she must show her face, her mettle and her confidence at Brisbane. Playing Sydney would have been seen as boycotting her competitors and mean heading into the Australian Open without being fully tested.

Azarenka will witness at Brisbane what she must do to maintain her status across 2013, with four or five serious competitors chasing that coveted crown. Can she achieve that watch-like perfection and keep on going over the early season? Brisbane should give us a good idea.

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