Victoria Azarenka will be gunning for Serena Williams as the pair go head-to-head in Friday’s semi-final, not least due to her poor record against the American. The No. 2 seed has lost seven out of eight matches to Williams, and the last three in straight sets. Despite the lack of success against the four-times Wimbledon Champion, Azarenka will fancy her chances thanks to her fine 2012. Here’s 10 facts you may not know about the Belarusian 22-year-old:
World No. 1: Azarenka only needs to beat Serena to recapture her status as the world’s best player. She gained the top ranking after winning her maiden Grand Slam in Australia earlier this year but lost top spot after defeat in this year’s French Open. She had a staggering 29-1 record earlier in 2012.
Heaven at seven: Vika, as she is nicknamed, started playing tennis aged just seven as her mother wanted to keep her bored daughter occupied. But the move soon backfired for Alla Azarenka who struggled to get Vika to go to bed at a reasonable hour such was her instant love of the game.
NHL Friendship: Aged 15, Azarenka wanted to make the next step as she looked to become a professional in the game. She opted to go to America (Scottsdale, Arizona) to train to become a full-time tennis player. She needed the support of NHL goalkeeper Nikolai Khabibulin, a family friend of the Azarenkas, and his wife to provide a stable base and sponsorship in order for Vika to be safe in a new country.
Fame and pride: Following this year’s Australian Open win, Azarenka is now arguably the most famous person to come out of Belarus. The Minsk-born Vika was presented with a Homeland Medal, an honour usually reserved for Belarusian war heroes. President Alexander Lukashenko described her as the “Pride of Belarus” and added: “The Homeland is grateful for your great achievement, which will be inscribed forever in the history of Belarusian sport.”
Euro 2012 addict: Vika enjoyed the European Championships football tournament regularly tweeting (@vika7) her thoughts. She appeared to be particularly excited by Italy’s quarter-final penalty shoot-out victory over England.
Miss Friendly: Azarenka is known as one of the most sociable players on the circuit. She once shared a house at Wimbledon with Russian Elena Vesnina, who she has played doubles with. She also lives next door to Caroline Wozniacki in her current home of Monte Carlo, where Novak Djokovic is also a neighbour.
She nearly quit: During a year of struggle in 2010, Azarenka very nearly retired from the game, temporarily at least, to focus on studying. But she was talked out of that by her beloved grandmother, someone she credits for her upbeat personality. Vika said: “She’s one of the most optimistic people on the planet, and she's always happy. She always puts me in a good mood.”
Motherly love: In addition to her grandmother, Azarenka credits mother Alla with her meteoric rise. She said: “My mum has a huge impact. She's been my number one fan all the time and helped me with everything off court, and we have a pretty good relationship with her. She knows that she's not my coach, she's not my agent or nobody, she's just my mum who really helps me being my mum. And when I need her, she's always there.”
Musical tastes: Vika has a diverse range of musical preferences. She has stated her love of Man Down by Rihanna and also enjoys Keri Hilson, Nelly and Mary J Blige. She likes to relax before matches by listening to these artists on her iPod.
She likes to dance: French player and top dancer Gael Monfils taught her a few moves in Australia earlier this year. Azarenka said: “We were playing an exhibition together. He's such an amazing athlete. He always has fun and he was dancing all the time. We had few parties, put on an iPod and was dancing. He was teaching me a few moves, like a Dougie and the Jerk and other things, like freestyle. Some stuff I have no idea how to do it, and I will never be able to do. But I'm getting better.”