A year after her maiden Grand Slam victory, the Belarussian still only has one major title to her name, but she firmly cemented herself as one of the ones to beat in 2012, registering a 69-10 record and winning five trophies outside of Melbourne.
Strengths: Once ahot-and-cold player, Vika “grew up” in tennis terms in 2012 by solidifying herself as a steady baseliner who stayed the course through matches, going at the lines and pushing her opponents deeper and deeper. And that’s where her strength is: at the baseline. The 23-year-old hits the ball solidly off both wings and hits as deep as anyone else on tour. And while her temper could once get the best of her, the new-deal Azarenka is now more cool-headed on court, meaning her tennis benefits from clear thinking.
Weaknesses: While Azarenka’s consistency and pace has greatly improved over the last few years, she still has a tendency to go off at times, spraying balls when her flatter strokes don’t find their mark. Vika can tend to try to hit the ball as hard as she can when she’s in trouble instead of trying to work out a point or mix up the pace, giving less margin for error. And though it’s become a weapon, her serve still has its holes: a second serve delivery is the softest shot you’ll see from the world No.1, giving opponents a crack at getting on top of the hard-hitting Azarenka.
Opportunities: It’s the first big test for Azarenka in terms of backing up her solid 2012 performance, in which she won the Australian Open. The tournament could come down to a Serena Williams-against-Vika showdown, but that’s only if the American is drawn on the opposite side of the draw, which could make for a crackling final. But what Azarenka really has the chance to do is do exactly what she did a year ago, only this time with the spotlight focused squarely on her.
Threats: The usual suspect (Serena and Maria Sharapova) are the biggest threats to the defending champ’s chances, but so too are the subliminal floaters. Dominika Cibulkova claimed her scalp at the French Open last year, and players like Marion Bartoli and Angelique Kerber can trouble her when she’s off because they hit hard enough to keep with her and can frustrate Vika if the courts are playing slower. Azarenka was 4-7 against the Serena-Maria duo in 2012 (none of those wins came against Williams), but if she wants to win another Slam in Australia, she’ll have to go through one if not both of them.
Mary Joe Fernandez, former world No. 4 and tennis analyst:
Victoria had a phenomenal year in 2012. It started in Australia with her run here. It was the best I have ever seen her play. In the last year, Azarenka has become a complete player, playing with controlled aggression. People forget that she almost won the US Open. Over the year, her fitness has improved. She’s going to keep going. Coming into Melbourne, she has the memory of winning her first major there and I think she wants to come back and win this title again, defend her first slam. She has all the tools to do so.