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Tennis: Confident Azarenka dismisses pressure like her opponents

Reuters , Saturday 23 Jan 2016
Belarus
Belarus's Victoria Azarenka serves during her women's singles match against Japan's Naomi Osaka on day six of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2016 (AFP)
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Belarus tennis ace Victoria Azarenka was more refined than former Australian cricketer Keith Miller when it came to dismissing concerns about pressure in sport, but the sentiment was similar.

Miller, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot during World War Two, famously quipped that pressure was being chased by a German fighter plane not playing test cricket.

On Saturday, after reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open in the shadow of the cricket ground where Miller once plied his trade, twice champion Azarenka was quick to dismiss any concerns she was feeling the weight of expectation.

"Pressure is if you don't win some tournaments you have absolutely no opportunity to go to any other," she said after her confident 6-1 6-1 win over Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka.

"If you're not the best you don't get sponsored.

"I had no money. I didn't get to eat. So that was pressure to survive," she said of her days in the junior ranks.

"So pressure right now is go out there and face a big opponent? Okay.

"But when you're hungry and you've got to go play and you have absolutely nothing, that's big pressure."

The Belarusian's new attitude to life and sport has come about after two years of battling injury and depression, which was exacerbated by the breakdown of a relationship with American singer Redfoo.

Such were the personal demons the 26-year-old was battling she said she was ready to give up the game after a quarter-final exit at the 2014 U.S. Open.

"I didn't feel good about myself. I have said that many times that I had a person (ask) me, 'are you depressed?' I said, 'no'.

"Because you don't allow, as an athlete, you don't really allow weaknesses to show. And then I realised, 'yes, I am'.

"It started a process for me to adjust.

"It's not easy. Obviously it took me over a year to be able to control all that. I had a lot of changes and emotions from last year that I still didn't know how to handle.

"One of my best friends in Belarus, he pushed me. I called him one time, I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore'.

"He said, 'you have to. You're this close. You've got to push through'."

That advice has helped Azarenka produce some irrepressible form at Melbourne Park, having conceded only five games in her march to the last 16. She also won the Brisbane International earlier this month, her first title since 2013.

She next plays unseeded Czech Barbora Strycova, who earlier tore the bottom half of the draw wide open by dumping third seed Garbine Muguruza out of the tournament, but the 2012 and 2013 champion was not taking anything for granted.

"She's a very tricky opponent," Azarenka said.

"It's never easy. You never know what's going to come."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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