When spending time in Dubai lastyear, Australian Open tennis champion Victoria Azarenka pickedthe brain of a man who knows all about breaking records.
Azarenka, 22, sat down with Olympic gold medal-winning polevaulter Sergei Bubka, the father of her boyfriend, a Ukrainiantennis player of the same name. the six-time world championanswered her questions and settled her mind.
“I said to her that she is ready; in 2012 you will be No.1,” the former athlete, who is president of Ukraine’s NationalOlympic Committee, said in an interview.
He was right. Azarenka, who fought back to win her openingmatch at the French Open yesterday against Alberta Brianti ofItaly, took her first Grand Slam title in January in Australia.She beat former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova of Russia inthe final and climbed to the No. 1 ranking on the WTA Tour.
After Melbourne, the Belarussian kept on winning. Her runof 26 straight victories to start the season was halted at theend of March with a quarterfinal defeat to France’s Marion Bartoli in Miami. the streak, which also included titles inSydney, Doha and Indian Wells, was the best start since Martina Hingis opened 1997 on a 37-0 run.
“I don’t know anybody whom you can get better advicefrom,” Azarenka said of her meeting with Bubka in an interviewat the Rome Masters shortly before Roland Garros. “I had quitea lot of discussions with him. He’s such an incredible personand athlete. I am really lucky to have that opportunity.”
Spain’s Rafael Nadal started his quest to become the onlyman to win the French Open seven times with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 winagainst Simone Bolelli of Italy today. Former Wimbledon championMaria Sharapova of Russia beat Romania’s Alexandra Candantu 6-0,6-0.
Azarenka struggled yesterday on the clay courts of RolandGarros, coming within two games of becoming the first female topseed to lose in the opening round at the tournament.
Azarenka’s best Grand Slam performance before theAustralian Open was a semifinals spot at Wimbledon last year,where she lost to eventual champion Petra Kvitova of the CzechRepublic. Previously, she lost quarterfinals at the 2009 and2011 French Opens, 2009 Wimbledon and the 2010 Australian Open.
She thought about quitting the sport after losing in thefirst round of an event in Doha in February 2011. At Wimbledon,Azarenka told reporters that her grandmother had talked her outof it, pointing out that life as a tennis player was a lotbetter than trying to hold down three jobs at the same time.
Bubka, 48, said he’s seen Azarenka change mentally.
“She started to know herself much better and understandhow to cope with stress, with pressure in differentcircumstances, in different conditions,” he said.
Bubka dominated pole vaulting after winning his first worldtitle at the age of 19. He was the first man to clear sixmeters, and improved his own world record 35 times. the Olympicchampion of the 1988 Seoul Games when he competed for the SovietUnion, his world mark of 6.14 meters set in 1994 still stands.
After retiring as an athlete, he became a sportsadministrator, joining the International Olympic Committee. He’salso a member of the organizing committee for soccer’s EuropeanChampionship, which starts June 8 in Ukraine and Poland.
Azarenka’s maturity is starting to show. She was able toovercome 60 unforced errors in her opening match in Paris.
“Bad days happen,” Azarenka told reporters yesterday. “Imanaged to go through those 60 mistakes and still win.”
Eighteen months ago, the result would have been different,she said.
“Before maybe I would have just given up and gone home,”Azarenka said. “I was kind of thinking there was a flightstraight to Minsk around 3 p.m. tomorrow so I could catch that,but I didn’t want to leave too soon.”
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