It’s not often that a player will request to sit down with journalists the day before a Grand Slam final. But that’s just what Victoria Azarenka has done.
“I feel like yesterday was definitely big news, it blew out, so I think it’s fair from my side to tell you my story,” said Azarenka to a handful of media who joined the world No.1 to discuss the previous day’s events.
Azarenka has been roundly criticised for taking a nine-minute medical time-out at 5-4 in the second set of her 6-1 6-4 semifinal win over 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens.
It’s an action that has variously been described by the public and media as “gamesmanship” and “choking”. An action that the 23-year-old realises has incited a torrent of ill-feeling in her direction.
“It was a big misunderstanding. It was bad timing, it was probably my fault as I said before and I would never do something against or towards the other player, especially somebody like Sloane,” she said.
“I’ve known her since she was 16 years old, we’ve practised a couple of times together and I admire her and really like her as a girl.
“The timing is unfortunate, I thought I could play through more when I obviously felt the pain. I thought I could continue but it just got to the point where I couldn’t and unfortunately that was the thing that I had to do. If that’s my mistake, [then] I can really say I’m sorry for that.”
One day on her story has not changed. Azarenka is open and appears genuine, she understands that her actions have upset many but also believes that at the time she didn’t have any other choice.
And as for that on-court interview? Azarenka maintains that she misunderstood the line of questioning. The world No.1 believed she was being asked about her difficulties closing out the match, not about her health.
“All the nerves that I was talking about, what was misunderstood, I was talking about I never felt that way in my life. I couldn’t understand what was going on … I just couldn’t fully breathe. It was hurting every time I breathed and it was really freaking me out.
“I cannot really change what has gone on in that particular situation and the other thing what I said, I keep going back and look[ing] at the footage because I had to understand myself what I did wrong to kind of see your side of things and to understand what you thought, which is fair enough.”
To set the record straight, at 4-2 Azarenka started to feel discomfort due to a blocked rib. At 5-3 she was experiencing breathing difficulties, which is when she called the trainer onto court. She did not ask to leave the court – she was asked to by the doctor so the problem could be assessed and only one medical time-out was taken.
“I think I can understand the situation but I feel also that when I explain the situation it’s not really fair for people to be like that,” she said. “Everybody can make a mistake or misunderstanding.”
Azarenka has not had a chance to speak to the other player involved, Stephens, but she plans to get in contact with her.
“I haven’t spoken to her after that but I am going to send her a message. I don’t feel that she took it the bad way because she was really nice in her press conference and we are great between us.
“It’s not going to cause any problems because it was not intentional and she didn’t take it personal and so that’s great from her. I think she’s a terrific girl and I’m definitely going to send her a message just to make sure that we are OK, but I know we are fine.”
Azarenka will now shift her focus to the final with Li, who she has defeated five times in their nine matches, but never at a Grand Slam. As well as the match, she is also prepared for a warm or otherwise welcome.
“I’m there to play tennis, like I always do. I cannot control what people are going to do, what I can control is to try and give my best.”