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Getting to Know...
It has been quite the year for 16-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
She is one of the biggest names on the junior tennis circuit, winning Grand Slam singles titles at the Australian Open and at the US Open and has also notched impressive results on the ITF Women’s Circuit, winning 17 of 21 matches and capturing her first professional title at ITF/Petange-LUX, a $75,000 event.
After these strides, it is no surprise that Azarenka is making a transition to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. She has already appeared at three Tour events, reaching the final round of qualifying at Prague (losing to eventual semifinalist Laura Pous Tio) and New Haven (falling in a third-set tie-break to world No.41 Kveta Peschke), and contesting her first main draw last week at Kolkata, losing her opening round to Galina Voskoboeva.
How did you get started playing tennis?
When I was seven years old, my mother Alla worked at a tennis club and I went with her to the courts. She gave me a racquet and I started to play against the wall, and after playing against it a few times a coach asked me if I wanted to play. I said "No, I'm afraid, I don't want to play," but then they took me and I started to play.
When did you start taking tennis seriously?
I started taking tennis seriously around nine or 10 years old. Until then it was tough, because there weren't many tournaments in Belarus. When I was 10, I went to the United States for the first time. I only won one match in three tournaments there. I was just hanging around and watching, and when I got back home I took it a lot more seriously. Around 11 or 12 years old I started traveling but not too far, like Moscow, and there were a lot of tournaments in Ukraine, which was close, so we were always going there too.
What is the biggest difference between the juniors and the Tour?
The mental side is more difficult. You have to stay tough and focus all the time. In the juniors, if you win the first set and a few games, the opponent will give up, but the pros never give up.
Did you expect to do so well on the junior circuit this year?
I didn't. Last year, I only won two junior tournaments and did not do as well in the Grand Slams. I thought I could do better but I didn't think it would happen this soon.
What improved in your game between last year and this year?
I started to practice more, I changed my coach and I'm doing a lot more fitness. I had to do much more fitness to compete at this level. At first I was dying on the court but I got used to it!
Who are you working with now?
Just over a month ago, I moved to Phoenix to train there, and I'm working with Adam Altschuler and Antonio Van Grichen. There are good conditions in Phoenix, it's perfect for fitness training.
What are your plans for your tennis in the near future?
I'm going to start playing full-time on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour next year, and I'm looking forward to it. I just need more experience. I've only played three Tour events, and only one main draw.
Who were your tennis idols growing up?
I admired Steffi Graf. I never met her, but I saw her around at the US Open. I also met Natasha Zvereva at Fed Cup before, they always talked to us, and also Olga Barabanschikova helped me a lot when I was younger.