Victoria Azarenka advanced to the fourth round of the French Open with a three-set victory over Alize Cornet on Saturday, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the two-time Grand Slam champion.
It took Azarenka two hours and 22 minutes to dispatch her French counterpart, shaking off a 4-6 first-set defeat to take the final two sets 6-3, 6-1.
But the scores of those sets don’t accurately represent what the world No. 3 had to battle through in her third-round matchup. If Azarenka can’t build more confidence for her tournament run, it may be a brief stint on the red clay.
The 23-year-old double-faulted 10 times and committed 31 errors against Cornet, despite never being in much danger of dropping the last two sets. As quoted by Greg Garber of ESPN, Azarenka just didn’t quite bring her best stuff:
I don't think I played really the right way, or was playing my best way, taking my chances in the first set. I felt that I was playing very comfortable for her, and she started to, you know, make a lot of winners, you know, fight and make a lot of balls. So I changed that a little bit in the second set and really took my chances moving forward and continued to stay aggressive, and that's what was bringing me, after, the points and the victory in the end.
It was a good sign to see Azarenka turn up the aggression after falling behind early in the match, but first-set troubles are often a sign of confidence issues—something with which Azarenka is all too familiar.
Lack of confidence has typically come on a bigger scale for the 23-year-old, whose poise and mental game sometimes come up short of her physical ability. As recently as 2011, Azarenka considered quitting the sport following her fourth-round collapse at the Australian Open, as quoted by an Associated Press report: “I decided I didn't want to play anymore and I had to re-evaluate a lot of things.”
The world No. 3 decided to continue her career and went on to win that particular Grand Slam event each of the last two years, but sometimes confidence can bleed away just as quickly as it comes. Following her 2011 Australian Open folly, Azarenka would fail to reach the finals in any of the three remaining Grand Slam tournaments.
For Azarenka to ensure she doesn’t experience another fourth-round collapse—this time at the French Open—she’ll have to enter her matchup with Francesca Schiavone with no memory of her first-set loss in the third round. She’ll have to play with aggression and poise, even if the errors are still a problem.
Aggression and mistake-free tennis don’t always go hand-in-hand.
A big part of winning on the big stage is being willing to take chances early in matches. Azarenka can’t afford to play “comfortable” tennis against Schiavone if she hopes to make it to the quarterfinals and an eventual chance at earning her first French Open title.
Azarenka has the talent to beat any player in the world. As long as she pairs that talent with confidence and aggression, the fourth round should hold a lot fewer surprises for the 23-year-old as she continues her title run at Roland Garros.