In a contagious string of upsets in Mellbourne, Victoria Azarenka's two-year reign as the Australian Open champ came to an unceremonious end.
Azarenka failed to advance past the quarterfinals as No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska befuddled the two-time defending champ with an impressive array of shot-making en route to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 win.
This result falls in line with the increasing carnage of top seeds:
Azarenka's loss makes it FIVE straight #AusOpen QFs lost by higher-ranked player (Ivanovic, Ferrer, Djokovic, Halep). Let's get ridiculous.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 22, 2014
Azarenka's loss snapped a string of 18 consecutive victories at the year's first major and highlighted a flaw that will keep the 22-year-old Belarussian from ever leaving the legacy that her booming power and immense talent would otherwise allow for.
Will Azarenka ever win another major?
Azarenka doesn't have the mental maturity to survive rough stretches.
In her quarterfinal loss, Azarenka let her emotions get the best of her. She was yelling, beyond her typical chorus of grunts, and slapping herself and the court. She was frustrated with her own play and her opponent's shot-making.
After her loss, the two-time major champion shed some light into her thoughts on her performance.
"I'm not happy with what I did today," Azarenka is quoted by the Associated Press (h/t Sporting News) as saying. "I think there was just too many mistakes, and too many easy mistakes on important moments."
She is certainly right about that assessment:
She wound up with 47 unforced errors—and those are just the shots that didn't land in play. She had plenty of more mistakes where inaccurate shots left it far too easy for Radwanska to offer up an impressive display of shot-making.
Take a look at the below point, which was like so many others during this match:
I don't want to take anything away from Radwanska. She was amazing. Her display was entertaining and creative. It also, however, would not have been possible had Azarenka been at her best.
As in the above point, there were plenty of opportunities for Azarenka to put points away. Azarenka clouldn't do it; combine that with her opponent's shot-making and Azarenka took herself mentally out of the match.
Azarenka's post-match T-shirt offered up excellent advice to the star, but if she is taking the advice to heart, she certainly isn't letting the press in on it:
Azarenka wore T-shirt with "Just Deal With It" emblazoned on it to press after #AusOpen loss, and was asked about it. "It's just a shirt."— Jonathan Scott (@jonscott9) January 22, 2014
To her credit, Azarenka is, at least, somewhat aware of this process. As ESPN passed along, Azarenka described her mental state as "in the clouds."
"She was just doing everything a little bit better than me," Azarenka was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "I was just watching. I was like a spectator a little bit."
So, Azarenka ran into a little adversity. She didn't have her best game and her opponent was playing well. This kind of setting will happen almost every tournament for even the most dominant players in tennis.
Those are the moments that separates top players from the truly elite players. In those moments, players such as Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams (most of the time) find a way to persevere through the rough patches and reassert control, as they will their game back to top form.
Azarenka has already proven she is currently one of the best players on tour and she has two majors under her belt. There is no way to look at that and say her career has been anything but a success.
Still, Azarenka's power and shot-making give her the ability to be remembered as one of the greatest of her generation. She is never going to get there until she learns to better weather the storm of her emotions.