Victoria Azarenka says it took her 10 years to overcome the criticism she faced following her last Australian Open semi-final.
The Belarusian defeated Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1 in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park on Tuesday and is on her best run since back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
The second of those proved to be controversial, with Azarenka taking a long medical break to lose her semi-final against then-19-year-old Sloane Stephens.
Azarenka broke and won the next game, telling the crowd: “I was going to make the choke of the year.” I was a little overwhelmed as I realized that I was one step away from the finish and the nerves definitely got to me.
Azarenka later admitted that she had chest pains and took time out of treatment because of it, but she was heavily criticized for her performance in defeating Li Na in the final.
Asked about the incident, the sacked Azarenka said: “It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced in my professional life, the way I was treated after that moment, I had to explain myself until 10:30. In the evening it was because people didn’t want to believe me.
“Sometimes, I don’t know, there’s an incredible need for a villain and a hero story has to be written. But we are not evil, we are not heroes, we are ordinary people who go through many, many things.
“Assumptions and judgments, all these opinions are valid because no one can see the whole story. No matter how many times I told my story, it didn’t change, it didn’t stop.
“I was thinking. It took me 10 f***ing years to get over it. I finally did.”
The 33-year-old put in a good performance to beat third seed Pegula and will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the last four.
Azarenka said handling the nerves was crucial to her resurgence, the 24th seed making her second semi-final at any major tournament since 2016.
“I don’t think you’ll know right away,” she said. I think it builds until you hit a really bad place where it doesn’t make any sense. You feel lost.
“I was at the point where I couldn’t find a single sentence that made me feel good about myself. I broke a few rackets after my match in Ostrava (in October). That was a very difficult time for me.
“Since then, I’ve tried to keep it simple. I started by trying not to be positive, just to be neutral and not negative.
“Acknowledging the anxiety I had. Acknowledging the fear I had. Kind of working through it. It was step by step.
“I tried to take a small step forward, another challenge, another step forward.”
Pegula was playing in her fifth Slam quarterfinal – including three in a row here – but had yet to make it any further.
“That was a tough match,” the American praised Azarenka. I think she played at a high level the whole time.
“Every time I try to get some motivation, I feel like I can’t quite get hold of it. I don’t think I played my best, but I think she played well from the start.”
Of the other quarter-final loss, Pegula added: “I don’t think it really affected me that much.” After being clear, now, it’s fun because I wish I could have done half, but it is what it is.