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Wow, what a performance from Victoria Azarneka, whooping former champ and former No. 1 Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 for the Australian Open title and the World No. 1 ranking. Given Maria’s repuration as a fighter, and the general feeling that first time finalists don’t win, you’d think there would have been more suspense during this match. We’ve all watched Maria get behind and thought, “Oh yes, she’s right where she wants to be.” Not this time, though. Azarenka rushed the most deliberate woman on tour, taking the screeching groundstrokes and hurling them back with interest. She showed great movement and anticipation and most of all self belief. In Azarenka, this self belief comes out a little cocky, with a strut and a wry smile. It’s fun to watch Azarenka puff herself up as she plays, especially when she plays such good tennis in the process.
Her winning attitude helped her get though that rough spot at the beginning of the match and ultimately run over her opponent, who looked leaden and tired. Vika continued her cocksure ways in the press conference, revealing no disbelief, all self-belief. She’s earned it:
Q. You mentioned that self‑belief. What will that do now for the year ahead and the possibility of more Grand Slams?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I really have to, you know, keep going the same way as I had my mentality, one at a time, you know. It’s gonna be a long year. It’s gonna be a lot of matches. I just want to keep improving.
You know, there is no ‑‑ I feel like there is no limit, really, that if I can try my best every day, I can reach a little bit, by little, by little. That’s what my mentality, how I have been working hard. So it’s just gonna have to stay the same.
It never fails to startle me when the commentators mention that Maria Sharapova is only 24 years old – just two years older than her opponent last night. With everything she’s been through, winning Wimbledon at 17, becoming a full fledged media superstar, competing against the greats and going through the surgeries and rehabs, it feels like she’s Roger’s age. Everyone keeps talking about her recent struggles, and wondering why she keeps playing when she has such a rich bank account and off court prospects. Part of me understands this line of questioning, but mostly I just think: what the hell else is she supposed to do? Tennis is not just her livelihood, it is her life, and she apparently believes the best is still to come. Her press conference was measured and controlled as usual, though she managed to reveal a little champion’s heart:
MARIA SHARAPOVA: It’s frustrating, but I have a pretty good head on my shoulders in terms of having a good perspective on sport and life.
And as hard as it is, you know, and as much as you want to be the champion, you know, there’s only one. That’s why the feeling is so special when you do achieve that. That’s why the work is so hard and extreme. That’s why the pleasure that you get and the excitement is what you work for, because you know how special it is.
I don’t regret the work that I put in at all. Getting to the stage is great for me, I mean, especially not having played matches for three months. I honestly didn’t know what to expect health‑wise and game‑wise. You just don’t know.
So to be at this stage is good for me. That’s why I’m, you know, looking forward to the rest of the year.
Q. Do you think your best tennis is still ahead of you?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I believe it is. Absolutely. I believe that there’s still a lot of work that I can do to improve. That’s why I’m still playing.
I think if an athlete wakes up, no matter what sport they’re in, and thinks they can’t be better or they can’t improve or they’re not gonna have good days ahead of them, it’s pretty tough to put in the work.
Ironically, it’s the veteran Maria who has revealed some Major nerves, lately, last summer in the Wimbledon final vs. Kvitova and now vs. Azarenka. She’s still young, but has an old tennis soul. Sure, a Major final can be overwhelming for green horns and first time finalists, but I think it can be even more emotional for the battle wearied veterans who have the maturity and yes, perspective, to know how insanely precious and fleeting these occasions really are.
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Congrats are due to Radek Stepanek and Leander Paes, the crafty duo taking out Mike and Bob Bryan in the men’s doubles final: 7-6, 6-2. If the Bryans had won it, they would have taken the record for most Major titles won as a team. But there’s still plenty of congratulations in store for the Bryan camp – Bob was rushing to get on a flight, hoping to arrive before his wife delivers their first baby.
“I was hoping we could get it done and go home and have the baby,” Bob said. “(My wife’s) done her job. We almost did our job. (Laughter.) But, you know, it was a hell of a trip.”