Azarenka closes in on top spot

World number one is two wins away from year-end top ranking but US Open champion Serena Williams stands in her way.

    Azarenka closes in on top spot
    Azarenka needs only two wins in the elite, eight-player WTA Championships in Istanbul to claim the year-end top spot, but Williams and Azarenka have been drawn in the same round-robin group [EPA]

    Even though world number one Victoria Azarenka is this week on the brink of one of her finest achievements, she admits that she looks back with amazement at the day when she nearly gave it all away.

    The 23-year-old from Belarus needs only two wins at the WTA Championships which start tomorrow to become the year-end world number one for the first time, yet she vividly remembers that not long ago her despair had convinced her to quit.

    "You have a moment when it just clicks and you get a better vision of where you are heading," Azarenka said of the February day in 2010 when it required her mother and grandmother to persuade her to continue.

    "It clicked when I got a real understanding of what I wanted to do and to achieve it and work around it," added the transformed player who emerged from the emotional crisis to win her first Grand Slam title at the start of 2012, and who has been top of the rankings for most of this year.

    "I'm really glad that happened to me, as it helped me to mature. It opened doors and helped me. It happened pretty much on one day.

    "I shall have to look it up and check the date, so that if I come to write a book I shall know exactly which day it was that changed me," she laughed.

    Change of perspective

    Since then Azarenka has not only managed to control her off-court mood swings, her tempestuous on-court temperament, and her variably aggressive game, but has gone some way to changing herself as a person too.

    "You gain a few perspectives, and change your vision of things," she said.

    "It helps you improve - improve not only as a player but as a personality.

    "I am as intense as I ever was, but maybe I manage it better. And now I have a great team around me, which helps me in everything. It took time to have a comfortable bubble around me."

    Azarenka can now afford to lose one of her three round robin matches and still achieve the coveted season-end top spot.

    She may need that leeway as she has landed Serena Williams, once again the tour's hottest player, in her group.

    When they last met, in the final of the US Open in New York last month, Azarenka was 5-3 up in the final set before Williams somehow clawed her way back. Azarenka will try to take heart from how close she came.

    "I will have to server better when serving for the match, that's for sure," she said of the imminent rematch with the American legend she has beaten only once in 11 tries.

    "I don't think we have ever played indoors, so it will be a new occasion. And I will also play a couple of other players too."

    Tough opposition

    One of those will be Li Na, the first Chinese player either to win a Grand Slam title or to qualify for the WTA Championships.

    She and Azarenka stand at four-all in their head-to-head record, but Azarenka has won the last three, including a match at this tournament last year at the same Sinan Erdem arena.

    The other is Angelique Kerber, the fast-rising German who is making her debut in this showdown tournament, and whom Azarenka has beaten in both their completed matches.

    She also handed Kerber a walk-over in Tokyo at the end of last month, complaining of dizziness, which suggested chronic fatigue.

    The extent to which Azarenka has recovered from this will influence her chances of winning the WTA Championships title.

    Azarenka was criticised for the way she handled that situation by Maria Sharapova, who commented that "she is probably injured more than any other player who is number one."

    However these two cannot meet before the semi-finals. Sharapova, the French Open champion and the second seed, heads the other round robin group, which includes Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, Petra Kvitova of the Czech republic, and Sara Errani of Italy.

    SOURCE: AFP


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