With two Grand Slams among her 17 career titles and the world No.1 ranking in her recent past, Victoria Azarenka is clearly not a woman who’ll take a loss lightly. But she might been forgiven for cutting herself some slack after Wednesday's three-set exit to world No.45 Bojana Jovanovski, with Wimbledon only her fifth event this season following a foot injury.
The positives, though, weren’t front of mind when the Belarusian provided a tough self-assessment following the two hour and nine minute encounter. “You can always take something positive from the match,” she agreed, before registering her disappointment at not quite turning events in her favour. “The thing is that I created a lot of things to make happen for me today. I just didn't use any of those opportunities. All that stuff that I built up was good, but not taking advantage was not great.”
With the benefit of hindsight – and more time to work out the rust, given that Azarenka only returned to competition at last week’s Eastbourne tournament – she might eventually be more forgiving of herself. While the relatively unheralded Jovanovski, who’d lost six straight matches prior to Wimbledon, would clearly take the most confidence from the 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory, there were also periods of Azarenka’s play that would be well worth repeating.
Her natural aggression was at its finest early in the second set, Azarenka claiming every point of her first two service games and finally breaking the Jovanovski serve in the fourth game. The Serbian pushed hard with a pair of break points in the following game but a steely Azarenka consolidated and then maintained her edge to win the set in 40 minutes.
It wasn’t just that the Belarusian had levelled the match that mattered, but that she was showing some of the form that saw her hold the world No.1 ranking for much of the 2012 season. It was here that Azarenka most dictated play, registering 20 of her total 46 match winners.
Those winners were in fact 19 more than the Serbian managed, but it was maintaining the standard at key moments that would prove problematical. The women each claimed two service breaks in the final set before Jovanovski impressively sealed it by claiming the final break in the 12th game.
The fact that Jovanovski had displayed such composure under pressure – and that she already had three top 10 wins on her record – was of little consolation to Azarenka. “She played well. I don't want to take credit away from her or anything. I always look at what I did. I don't really care what the person has done in front of me,” she said.
While the world No.46 will go on to meet qualifier Tereza Smitkova in only her second Grand Slam third round in 17 majors, Azarenka is contemplating the hard work that’s required before returning to such a level in the American summer.
“It's consistency. It's not [doing] enough,” she explained of the areas of her game requiring the most urgent attention. “It's a little bit too many mistakes like not closing the opportunities, not being sharp enough. There are a lot of things that still has to be tuned and has to be practiced. It basically goes down to back to work.”
Asked whether she was being too harsh on herself, Azarenka was once again brutally honest. “I have to be realistic,” she said. “I cannot sit here and say it's all great, because there's no moving forward from there. I'm going to be hard on myself just because I want to be better.”
Perhaps there are positives to be taken after all. “I’m very motivated,” Azarenka warned. “I’m not taking that as a downer, this match. I'm going to take it as motivation to be better.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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