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14 Feb 2014

TOP-8 belarusian sportsmen in 2013. VICTORIA AZARENKA, tennis player

We sums up the year 2013with publications dedicated to Belarusian sports heroes, the best of which will be determined by public vote. Yuri Mihalevitch in the sixth article tells about why the tennis star Victoria Azarenka is under pressure at home and why Belarusians deprives Victoria of right to her own opinion, even if it is wrong.

Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka

"If there is any part of her game that Azarenka needs to improve it is clearly her serve. She was nowhere near the leaders in service points won or service games won--she won a paltry 67.3 % of her service games; compared with 84.1% from Serena Williams and 78.5% from Maria Sharapova, it's clear that she's putting herself at a major disadvantage by not serving more effectively – and to reach her potential as the next great (dare we say dominant?) player in women's tennis she'll have to find a way to get more out of her serve", – Chris Oddo the journalist of online newspaper "Tennis Now" anticipates the start of the new season performed by Victoria Azarenka. In this publication he recalled that many great players have climbed to the top, where Belarusian is now, but could not overcome difficulties in order to be the best. However, Oddo thinks that Victoria is a person who loves to meet challenges and therefore she has no doubts that she is able to surpass her predecessors.

I can’t say that Chris Oddo is a kind of prophet and that he sees more clearly than others. Vika in women's tennis is a phenomenon now, this is undisputable. Chris does not try to engage in any controversy on it, but his opinion is important to us because it is impartial to the object of speaking. Because in Belarus recently when somebody discusses events in the Azarenka’s life, the conversation rarely drifts to the sports component.

If we take as basis TUT.BY forums, then the majority of Belarusians were really rejoiced at Victoria’s success only due to the results of Australian Open-2012. Azarenka won her first Grand Slam what was liked by a record for tennis portal audience: nine hundred twelve users "VKontakte" and three hundred owners of Facebook-accounts. People congratulated each other on the compatriot’s victory, shared good news and impressions about what they have seen.

As practice shows the more she wins, the more angry messages appear in the comments to news reports about her successes. And virtual Belarus is mostly discontented not with the manner of Vika’s acting on the court, but with Vika’s friends, boyfriends, fees, also people like to discuss where she lives and pays taxes, whether her patriotic feelings are sincere or not etc. Of course, each of us has the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, but exercising it wholly, some behave as if they know Azarenka better than anyone: what she does, what the circumstances make her act this way and not otherwise. These people talk as if she had to do something, and moreover had to do something for them personally. They sincerely believe that they are right.

Victoria Azarenka

In this case, it’s strange to hear from them that Vika, for example, protects the dictatorial regime. Her companionship with the president they consider as a betrayal, time-serving and indifference to the fate of the Belarusian people. Supposing that she does support the current government, though it can be inferred only by the official line of contacts – not by honest confession. But is that a democratic society when people lay the blame on her for this? Quite the contrary. In fact the society does not give her the right to freedom of expression, does it?

It just so happened that Belarus is called the country of sports by those who want to, but such statements do not correspond to reality. Purpose of this text is not to change dissentients’ mind. We draw conclusions from the ratings and topics that users are interested in. And all this fully explain the nature of critical comments to Azarenka, which do not related to sports.

Frankly speaking, Belarusians keep tabs on sports only on special occasions, and when such occasion serves, the majority of them are not ready to talk about fundamental things. They can talk about what they have a good grasp of. Some people talk about politics, some – about economy, some – about culture, some – about psychology. About that they talk. But it is still good for sport: let them say. It would be worse if they kept silence. But significant victories of compatriots compel Belarusians’ attention: the masses are brought into discussions with all the consequences. However, the Azarenka’s case is unique because she is not only respected for achievements. Vika’s trouble is that at home nobody really appreciates her contribution to the development of tennis, that she does being a professional player. Our people are interested in her fees, cars, property, dresses on the court and beyond, boyfriends... Vika has nothing to complain about, because she has everything. Tennis gave her everything she could dream of. At best – people envy her when criticizing, at worst – consider to be the enemy. During a personal interview with the tennis player and the April press conference Vika said exactly about it. Maybe it was quite subdued, but we’ve understood that compatriots’ unreadiness to talk about her high achievement in sports is the reason to minimize contacts with Belarusian mass media.

By the way, most of the media, as well as the audience, "wake up" only at times of important events. Such as the Victoria’s arrival to Belarus. They started to publish tennis news, wondering why Vika refuses them to give an exclusive interview and talking about her grievance on the press. But they "in peace-time" demonstrate inability to cover the tennis news. Vika finds it disappointing as well as the fact that Belarusian journalists do not show a special interest in her life during tournaments.

In 2013, she participated in fourteen competitions and she really has something to boast of, besides the prize money (6,497 million dollars, what is more than any other Belarusian athlete has got). Of course, this is the second in her career Grand Slam, won for the second time in a row in Australia where probably all the major tennis victories by now have happened. These are certainly two victories in official tournaments over the Terror of Women's Tennis Serena Williams, one of which was on the territory of the perpetual nemesis, and this is the final of US Open, in which, however, the younger of the Williams sisters repaid Vika a debt. By the way, the recent Azarenka’s success in an exhibition match against American weights the scales on behalf of Belarusian, if we take into account the number of wins in a calendar year – 3:2. And in fact before that Victoria was only once better than Serena in the official opposition. It was in Miami in 2009, when American was playing with an injury.

Do not forget that Azarenka is World No. 2 now. Yes, she earned not so many points in this season because of injuries (knee and ankle), missed tournaments (in total there were only three matches less than in 2012) and amazing shape of Williams, who has updated her personal record for the number of titles per season. Vika won forty-three matches (for comparison – in 2011 she had sixty victories, in 2012 - seventy), but at the same time Vika kept Serena out of path strewn with roses, and she also managed to step up. For example, she for the first time in her career reached semi-final at "Roland Garros". The semifinal match at the French Open, where Azarenka played against Sharapova, was later recognized as the best fight of the year in women's tennis, it won the WTA audience award. In general, despite the defeat, this match can be considered as the achievement of Belarusian.

In other words, Azarenka has the top rating, despite it was not her best season, and introduces the keynote of sport, making it, on the one hand, athletic, on the other one – pragmatic. Do I need to remind you that due to her combative spirit and the ability to fight experts pin their hopes on the "revolution" in the era of Williams Jr.’s "excesses"? 

Perhaps there is no one other Belarusian athlete, who is hated as much as loved. But the fact that Victoria Azarenka – the first class athlete, can hardly be disproved by anyone. Perhaps one day she will bare her thoughts at home, and the people will change their mind. But meanwhile she does that she loves more than anything else. She plays tennis: fights and works to improve herself. She deserves respect only therefore, but she also still represents Belarus in the international arena.

By the way, it is possible that shortly after the so-called "strike of millionaires" Vika will play for the national team at the Fed Cup again. It is a pity that even in this case, she will get the fresh portion of criticism. There is no doubt that the reasons will be found by illiberal persons. But let them say. Victoria will do her job, whether somebody like it or not.

Yuri Mihalevitch


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