Victoria Azarenka holds court
WIMBLEDON, England -- A ripple of polite giggles reverberated through the press room. Or as polite as giggles can be.
The subject was drama, the person speaking was Victoria Azarenka and, well, need we say more? The two go together like grass courts and hay fever and tend to be mentioned in the same sentence. A lot. Hence the reaction to Azarenka's comments Monday, when she was asked if the recent verbal volley between defending champion Serena Williams and resident adversary Maria Sharapova might just work to her advantage this fortnight.
"I don't really like drama ... " Azarenka said. "I don't have drama in my life, really."
In truth, the idea that anything off the court might help No. 2 seed Azarenka or anyone else when it comes to playing Williams, now generally acknowledged as the most dominant tennis player on the planet, was just convenient fodder for Day 1 of these Wimbledon championships.
But it also worked nicely into the theme of the day as both Azarenka and Sharapova experienced a bit of their own drama in their first-round matches Monday: No. 3 seed Sharapova was pushed by 37th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic before closing out a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory, and Azarenka injured her knee in an awkward split before prevailing 6-1, 6-2 over Maria Joao Koehler.
As is often the case, however, what was discussed after their matches proved most entertaining.
Azarenka has withdrawn or retired from four tournaments this year and 17 since the beginning of 2010, rarely with the same injury and often with ailments lasting no longer than a few days. This January alone, she pulled out of the Brisbane International semifinal against Williams, citing a toe infection -- caused by a bad pedicure, she said -- then was roundly criticized for her nearly 10-minute timeout during a semifinal victory over Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open.
In that one, Azarenka left the court after dropping serve and blowing five match points at 5-4 in the second set, first attributing the move to a panic attack, then to a rib injury, and two days later, to "a virus."
This time, Azarenka was up a set and 1-0 in the second against Koehler when she slipped on the baseline and collapsed in a sobbing heap. She took about a 10-minute break and continued with a wrap on her right knee.
"It happened so quick, my leg just kind of collapsed," Azarenka said. "I felt like my knee just turned the other way, and it was just so nasty. I was in such shock. For two minutes, I had such a consistent pain that it just completely freaked me out."
The extent of her injury, Azarenka said, won't be determined until further tests are done. But it seems doubtful that it will affect her given her optimism about the rest of the tournament.
Asked if her ongoing relationship with grass might require "counseling or divorce" (Wimbledon news conferences, the best in sports), Azarenka took exception, and rightly so, given her back-to-back semifinals appearances here. (Just because they're the best, doesn't mean they're always rational.)
"I mean, I like grass actually," she said. "At the beginning it was difficult to understand what kind of adjustments I need to do to play on that. But I think my game suits [grass] pretty well and I'm excited to be here. ... Maybe we'll see the ring on my finger after two weeks."
Resisting the urge to ask about Azarenka's budding engagement, the press and tabloid corps reserved a separate set of questions for Sharapova. Not surprisingly, they centered on her mini-feud with Williams.
Last we heard, Williams said she had apologized to Sharapova for comments in a recent magazine article in which she allegedly referred to Sharapova, which only added intrigue to the drama.
Did Williams, in fact, apologize? And, oh yes, what specifically did she apologize for saying? (A) Sharapova's boyfriend had a "black heart," (B) she was boring in interviews and/or (C) she was never going to be invited to the "cool parties." Sadly, we might never know, as Sharapova elected to take the admirable but oh-so-disappointing high road Monday.
"Honestly, I've said everything that I wanted to say about the issue," she said. "You know, Wimbledon started. This is my work. This is my job. I'd really appreciate it if we move on."
Three follow-up questions later, Sharapova said her refusal to comment further was not because she was afraid it would prove a distraction, but simply because Wimbledon is "one of the most incredible tournaments. ... That's the most important thing in my life right now."
Great answer. Unfortunately for Sharapova, it is unlikely that any controversy will prove distraction enough to derail Williams' 31-match winning streak. Or help either Sharapova (loser of her past 13 matches with Williams) or Azarenka (2-13 versus Williams).
Either way, Azarenka said, she's not getting involved in the drama.
"I don't have a problem with Maria or Serena in that particular case, so I'm out of that and I don't want to get involved," she said. "My personal life is my personal life. I don't like to comment on anybody else's personal life because it's their own business, and I'm minding my own business. We are here to play a tournament."
Yes, they are.