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Victoria Azarenka: Honestly authentic

  • Leigh Rogers

The full version of this interview was first published in Australian Tennis Magazine's April-May 2024 edition, a special “life lessons”-themed issue also including features on Alex de Minaur, Marta Kostyuk and some of the wisest young stars in the sport. Visit the online shop to preview and order your copy. 


Life is busy for Victoria Azarenka. As well as juggling motherhood and her commitments as a long-serving member of the WTA Players’ Council, she remains an on-court force.

The enduring 34-year-old, one of the oldest women currently in the world's top 40, spoke to Australian Tennis Magazine about a range of topics in this exclusive interview.

ATM: Has your definition of success changed throughout your career and what does it look like now?

Azarenka: "I don’t think it’s changed. I think it’s actually excelled because I wouldn’t say you’re used to having success, but you know what you’re capable of. So, anything below that to me is not good enough and I think that drive and that competitiveness of wanting to be the best is what drives me to play and improve and really work hard. I never play to play average. For me, being in the quarterfinals or semifinals, it’s a good result but it’s not the goal. So, I really want to make sure I prepare myself and I train hard to compete for titles." 

What motivates you more – facing a player you’ve never played before or playing a familiar opponent?

"Oh wow, that’s going to depend on the person for sure. I think there’s some sort of excitement when you haven’t played somebody, because it’s like you need to figure out their game and it’s kind of a challenge in a way for me. But it really depends. Especially if I lost to somebody previously, I would definitely be much more excited to get revenge."

When people talk about your career, the narrative is often around your return as a mother. But you have also been very vocal in discussing mental health. Did you intend to become a trailblazer on these fronts?

"I don’t really like the trailblazing labels. I think, to me, it doesn’t come as something that I want to advocate for, that’s not my lane I want to take. I’ve just always been very honest. I’ve always been very authentic in who I am, and it came with good and the bad. I had to learn how to reserve myself sometimes and learn how to be vulnerable and be okay with that. I became a mum and I wanted to make sure that we have the right rules at least or something that can help other people. I didn’t benefit from them, and it doesn’t matter.

"I want our sport to be better when I stop playing, to be way better than when I started. I feel like there’s a lot of amazing players, amazing legends like Billie Jean King and many, many others who were able to open doors for us. I don’t know if it lays on me, I think there’s a lot of people who are doing it, but I do want to make sure that I put a little bit of my energy and my effort into improving the tour. There’s a lot of things where we still have opportunity. I don’t want to say we need to do it, but we have opportunity to improve."

Speaking up, especially when discussing mental health, is not easy. Are you proud you have been able to do this?

"With mental health, I think there’s different ways of talking about it. I come from a background where you don’t really talk about your feelings. So, I had to learn that. I watched my parents and how they communicate, and people around me how they communicate. For me it was a trial-and-error type of relationship with that, but we are all still human beings, we still have so much baggage and so many things outside of tennis. I feel like if sharing something I go through helps – because I know a lot of people go through similar things – if that, can help somebody to show how I deal with it, maybe it will help.

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"I feel like athletes and celebrities are put on this pedestal like they’re not human beings, like they’re super humans and that’s really not true. We’re all human. It’s just we are probably really good at our job and that stands out, but that doesn’t mean that we are great at other things. I think what helps me, at least as an athlete, is that determination to improve, to get better, to work on my craft, remain disciplined so in other areas of my life, I can apply those tools and hopefully work on them as well. So in that way, I think we do train those tools to help you in other areas, but obviously not everybody does it and I hope that it kind of helps more young people to have those conversations, to learn from them, to try things, to have fun, but really keep learning. Your tennis career is short, but you have a lot of time to learn."

Have you found showing your vulnerability off court has helped your performance on court?

"I don’t know if it helps or not, but it’s definitely connected. I think you can’t be like ‘okay, I’m like this on the court and I’m like that off the court’. I think that there are different intensities of your personality on the court and off the court, because you are going through high peaks of stress and high peaks of pressure, but I think that they’re not that different. It’s my observation. I’m not a psychologist but I do love to observe people. I do love to learn, I do love to read, to just really experience a different dimension of the mind. I think it’s very similar and you can’t escape your thoughts on the court or off the court. It’s how you deal with them, how you welcome them, how you analyse them, all those things and all those tools. I think that’s what is really going to help you."

Have you put much thought yet into your post-playing career?

"No, not really. I know that I’m going to be very busy for sure. I am extremely busy with life. I’ve taken a couple of breaks in my career, voluntarily and involuntarily, and one thing I know is that I’ll find something to do that I’m passionate about and I will never be bored, because I definitely have a lot of interests in life. I have a horse now, I have a son, I have a dog. I have so many things that I’m actually excited to do, but I have to pause them because tennis is still my priority. I just know I’m going to be fine whatever I do. 

"For me now, I’m focused on playing tennis and for me, it’s important to give it my best shot for whatever amount of time I want to play. When I was younger, I said I’m probably only going to play until 27 and here I am, I’m almost 35 and I feel better than ever."

Victoria Azarenka celebrates her third-round win over Jelena Ostapenko at AO 2024, her 50th match win at Melbourne Park and a result sending her through to the Australian Open's second week for the 11th time.

Is your son Leo playing tennis?

"He’s playing tennis. I’ve taken him to lessons and then he was like, ‘when are we going home?’ And I was like ‘okay, you know what, if you don’t really want to be here, I’m not going to push you’. But he started playing tennis in school again and he enjoys it. He’s very athletic. He does a bunch of sports. He does ice hockey. He does football, which is soccer in America. He does jiu-jitsu, we both actually do it, and he plays golf. So, we are constantly in sports and doing things. So, for me, one of my favourite things is to be able to share those experiences with him. I travelled with his hockey bag the whole summer and he was doing ice hockey camps. When we were in Paris, we did the Paris Saint-Germain camp, which was very cool.

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"I’m very privileged to be able to combine those activities and see him grow and see him be interested in sports. It almost seems like he’s shifting his mentality. He just turned seven, but we are having conversations like if you want to play for fun, we go Sunday, you play for fun, for the group, but he wakes up and goes to practice at 6.45 in the morning before school and I love that. I’m not the one who’s pushing him. I feel like hopefully my work ethic and example that I try to show him, that if you want something then you need to work for it and to believe in yourself, hopefully it’s rubbing off. 

"So that’s also big motivation for me to keep going. I want him to learn that and actually see it happen, that with hard work and believing in yourself, you can achieve anything."