Victoria Azarenka: What She Must Do to Win the 2012 French Open
For the first time in her career, Victoria Azarenka has entered a Grand Slam tournament as the No. 1 player in the world. With that comes the pressure of being the one every other competitor on the WTA Tour is after.
She's not the clear-cut favorite at this year's French Open, though: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams both won two big clay-court events during the spring to lead the pack. Plus, she struggled in her opening-round match in Paris.
However, a second major title of the year—after her Australian Open win earlier this season—isn't out of Azarenka's reach, even though she hasn't won a clay-court title yet in 2012.
Probably the most important factor in her reaching a breakthrough at Roland Garros is relying on her mental fortitude. She is the No. 1 player in the world and earned that based on one of the most dominant starts to a season in years. Every time she stepped on the court over that 26-match winning streak, Azarenka went out believing she could win—and do so emphatically. It led to her picking up four titles, including her first Grand Slam singles crown.
Granted, those wins all came on hard courts, which is her best surface. But there is a clay-court title just won last year in Marbella among her 12 career tournament victories, so there is evidence she can play on the dirt. Her results this year could solidify that claim: She made the finals in Premier events in Stuttgart and Madrid, losing to Sharapova and Williams, respectively.
Ability-wise, Azarenka is also at an advantage right now. She's hitting the ball cleaner than most of her opponents and striking a flurry of winners. When she's not controlling the point outright with her groundstrokes, she's able to stay in it by playing solid defense.
In her losses to Sharapova and Williams, she did get hit off the court, though. Keeping an aggressive mentality against the more powerful players should serve her well and getting into the net could go a long way out of taking Sharapova or Williams out of their comfort zone. Azarenka's a solid volleyer, as seen by her success in doubles at the Slams: She's won two mixed titles and made another final, plus finished runner-up three times in women's doubles at the majors.
The opportunity is there for Azarenka to win a second Grand Slam singles title in 2012. Having the confidence that she can get it done and playing aggressively can go a long way into making that happen.
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