When Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open crown in 2011, it formed the early stages of a magnificent 43-match undefeated run that extended until May and incorporated seven titles.
Victoria Azarenka did something similar when she won at Melbourne Park in 2012, her victory part of a 26-0 start to the season – the best since Martina Hingis in 1997 – that reaped four titles and the No.1 ranking.
After winning the Australian Open titles again in 2013, Djokovic and Azarenka are again, somewhat unsurprisingly, enjoying near-perfect seasons.
Azarenka has yet to lose in 2013, building a sparkling 17-0 record that has included titles in Melbourne and Doha, and already winning more than $3 million in prizemoney. The only blip on the Belarusian’s record has been her propensity to withdraw from matches. In Brisbane, she pulled out of the tournament prior to her highly-anticipated semifinal battle with Serena Williams, and did the same in Indian Wells ahead of her quarterfinal against Caroline Wozniacki.
Yet Azarenka won't be focusing much on those injury-affected tournaments. Rather, it has been her performances when healthy that will have imbued her with significant confidence, especially at the Doha event, a field stacked with top 10 talent. Most impressive was her victory in the final over Williams, who just days earlier had snatched away Azarenka’s world No.1 ranking by winning her quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova. Staring down an opponent who had won their last nine matches, Azarenka played exquisite tennis to defeat the American in a high-quality three-set final.
Paradoxically, Azarenka has since dropped to world No.3 after displaying some of the best form of her young career.
Since beating Andy Murray in a brutal four-set final at Rod Laver Arena in late January, Djokovic has been accruing some impressive results of his own. After helping Serbia defeat Belgium in their Davis Cup World Group first round tie, he reappeared at the ATP 500 event in Dubai and straight-setted all opposition on his way to his fourth title in the Middle East.
He followed that up with a run to the semifinals at Indian Wells, before his unblemished record in 2013 – and his 22-match winning streak – came to an end at the hands of Juan Martin del Potro. Yet Djokovic has still produced the best season so far of any player on tour, with his record standing at 17-1, two titles and $3.2 million in winnings.
Having both contested just four events so far this year, Djokovic and Azarenka appear to understand that sufficient rest is key to sustaining their brilliance. And they’ve learned that the hard way. Towards the end of 2011, Djokovic was merely a shadow of the player who’d stormed through the tour earlier that season, with exhaustion clearly a factor in his subdued results post-US Open. After her rip-roaring start to the 2012 season, Azarenka suffered a noticeable dip from March through to the end of the claycourt season before rediscovering her game.
The pair will hope to be rested and refreshed heading into the Sony Open in Miami, a tournament at which they have historically thrived. Azarenka is a two-time Miami champion (2009 and 2011) while Djokovic is the reigning Miami titleholder, having also won the event in 2007 and 2011.
And with their confidence sky-high coming into the Floridian tournament, often referred to as the “fifth Grand Slam”, both Djokovic and Azarenka will be hard to stop as they look to continue their winning ways.