Victoria Azarenka has shown how a renewed positive outlook can make all the difference. Seven years after last appearing in a US Open final, the 31-year-old is back in the championship round.
She had to beat Serena Williams—the very player that beat her in 2013—to get to a Saturday showdown with Naomi Osaka. It's a fitting ending as Azarenka and Osaka were meant to play in the Western & Southern Open final two weeks ago before Osaka withdrew with a hamstring injury. Now the world No. 9 and her taped thigh are all that are standing between Azarenka and her third career Grand Slam title.
This month of winning in New York all been about attitude for Azarenka.
“Mentally I'm in such a different place,” the world No. 27 said. “I think seven years ago, after I won the Australian Open and stuff, and playing kind of consistently with good results, it was kind of I wouldn't say expected but kind of expected for me to be in the final. I don't think that was the case this year.
“But it feels more fun this year, more fulfilling, more pleasant for me. It feels nice, nicer.”
Azarenka tasted success very early in her career, winning two junior Grand Slams, reaching her first WTA final at 17 in 2007 and making it to No. 1 after her first major win in Melbourne in 2012.
After leaving the game to have her son Leo in 2016, it has taken her years to return to the final rounds of majors. While some of it was due to tough draws since she came back from maternity unranked, a lot of it had to do with getting into match shape again and boosting her mentality.
“I think when you're coming up from kind of nothing, then you become a No. 1 player in the world, sometimes you can start to think you're invincible and that you're better than everybody, and it's not true,” the Belarusian said. “So the ego starts to grow. It's very hurtful when it gets damaged.”
As she’s matured and gone through challenges on and off the court, her perspective has changed. That seems to be why fans are seeing a reinvigorated Azarenka in New York this month.
“Instead of getting the ego damaged, I tried to remove that and learn from my mistakes of that ego,” she said. “And realizing, maturing, that being a tennis player doesn't make you better or worse than anybody else, that you're still human, and all you can do is try to be the best version of yourself and keep improving.”
She'll face Osaka on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the title.