Victoria Azarenka playing in shadows
PARIS -- Other players might fret and pace and worry as they sit through long delays. Victoria Azarenka, however, had a more entertaining way of passing the time during Tuesday's rain delays that eventually postponed her first-round match until Wednesday morning. She watched the latest installment of "The Voice."
"It was incredible. I was so entertained," she said. "There is this girl, who is named Judith [Hill], and she was a duet singer with Michael Jackson, and she is just absolutely incredible. I have no idea how a sound like that can come out of somebody's mouth. It's just -- wow."
Speaking of amazing sounds coming out of somebody's mouth, tennis players are well known for grunting, but Azarenka stands out in terms of sheer volume and tone. She doesn't so much grunt after each hit as wail loudly, sounding as if she is in pain yet also wildly enjoying a plunge on a roller coaster. "WHEWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!" she shrieks, the sound capable of drowning out even Chris Berman at full roar.
Not that it is quite loud enough for her to overwhelm the media noise about Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova here.
Azarenka, 23, was ranked No.1 last year. She won the Australian Open for the second year in a row this January. She is ranked No. 3. But evidently, that's not enough to steal much attention from Williams and Sharapova, particularly Serena. After Azarenka put away Elena Vesnina in straight sets Wednesday morning, only three English-speaking reporters attended her news conference, and there weren't a whole lot of reporters who spoke Russian, either.
"I think Serena always has attention, no matter where she is," the native of Belarus said in her fluent English. "She's been around the game so long, and she's No. 1 in the world, so that's usual. I don't really pay attention very much to what's going on [in the media]. It's important to show up for my job and be present and be 100 percent on the court. And whatever is going on around, it's just entertaining for people. But I'm just focused on what I do and nobody else."
This tournament is considered Williams' to win or lose, which is fine by Azarenka, who can meet Williams here only in the final. The two have played 14 times -- and Williams has won 12 of those, including all seven meetings in Grand Slam tournaments. One of Azarenka's victories, however, was just a couple of months ago in Doha, Qatar, when she beat Williams in the final. Ironically, Azarenka lost her No. 1 ranking to Williams right after that.
"She's really been playing consistently on a high level," Azarenka said of Williams. "We all know the level she can play at. Her game wasn't maybe as consistent as it is now."
Azarenka has much better records against Sharapova (7-5, including a victory in the 2012 Australian final) as well as Li Na (6-4, including a victory in this year's Australian), which is good news because both players are in her bracket. She could face Li in the quarterfinals and Sharapova in the semis.
Not that Azarenka is always out of the spotlight. She drew controversial attention at the Australian Open in her semifinal match against Sloane Stephens when she left the court for a medical timeout after blowing five match points, then returned to finish the win.
She also was forced to withdraw from four matches after that because of a right ankle injury, but says she is all healed.
"I feel good," she said. "I feel I had good preparation before here, and I look forward to my next match."
There were no medical issues Wednesday. Azarenka moved well on the clay while beating Vesnina. She celebrated by swatting a ball up above the stands and out of Court Philippe Chatrier.
The ball likely bounced into the hands of some lucky fan walking by outside the court, a fan who probably immediately thought about getting it autographed by Serena or Sharapova.