Tennis: Azarenka shrugs off Serena favorite tag
MELBOURNE – Defending champion Victoria Azarenka Sunday insisted she doesn’t care that Serena Williams is seen as favorite to win the Australian Open and indicated her motivation was high to beat the world number one.
Williams has been in sparkling form, losing just five matches last year and beating Azarenka in the final of the warm-up Brisbane International tournament this month.
It has seen her installed as firm favorite to dethrone Azarenka and claim a sixth Australian Open title, her first since 2010.
“I don’t really care about it, honestly. I never cared about it,” the Belarusian told reporters, when asked if it bothered her that Williams was considered as the main title contender.
“I think the favorites, it’s predictions that you guys love to do. For us, it’s a matter of playing tennis and giving your best on the court.”
The Monte Carlo-based world number two acknowledged that Williams was in some of the best form of her life and would be hard to beat.
“But I think everybody is the one to beat here. We have such a high competition right now,” she said, when quizzed about Williams.
“You know, you always have to look out for every opponent you play. You cannot look past anybody because everybody is prepared, everybody wants it badly.
“Comparing to her (Williams) last season, of course, everybody will be motivated to beat her.”
In what could be a dress rehearsal for the Melbourne decider, Williams edged Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 in the Brisbane final with her powerful serve proving the key difference.
Despite the psychological blow of losing to her main Grand Slam rival early in the season, Azarenka said it had been good preparation for the Australian Open, where she beat Li Na last year to win her second successive Melbourne crown.
“I think it was a great preparation, the whole week in Brisbane, to play actually so many different types of players,” said the 24-year-old.
“That’s what you want to get in the beginning of the season and in preparation for the event like this.”
Azarenka plays Sweden’s Johanna Larsson first up and said she thrived on the Melbourne atmosphere.
“I just enjoy playing here,” she said when asked to explain why she plays so well at Melbourne Park.
“It’s the beginning of the year, I’m so motivated. I’ve always been really happy and motivated and inspired to play here.”