Azarenka's adaptability pays off

 - Simon Cambers

Belarusian No.10 seed breezes into the second round with victory over Kovinic

Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Billie Jean King has a favourite saying: “Champions adjust”.

For Victoria Azarenka, it’s a philosophy that sums up her new-found attitude, one that should stand her in good stead over the next fortnight.

Despite cool conditions and drizzle that interrupted play early in the first set, the former world No.1 cruised into the second round at Roland-Garros on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.

A few years ago, the Belarusian might have struggled to maintain her equilibrium in such circumstances but this is a new, more relaxed Azarenka, and one who is back in the kind of form that took her to two Grand Slam titles and earlier this month, to a major final for the first time since 2013.

“Well, conditions and everything around, they don't bother me,” said Azarenka, who plays Venus Williams or Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the second round. “The only thing that can bother me is myself. So everything else around me is an exterior (issue).

“I wouldn't say it's ideal, but it is what it is. You got to adjust. I said that before and I'm going to continue to feel this way, it's all about adjustment these two weeks. Some shots that I hit today, I don't know if it was good tennis or it was just great adjustments because they weren't really pretty shots sometimes.”

First up on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Azarenka was leading world No.74 Kovinic 2-1, on serve, when the rain became too heavy for them to play on.

Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Julien Crosnier/FFT

After a discussion with the supervisor, Azarenka and Kovinic decided to go off the court until the rain passed and the break worked well for the No.10 seed.

When they returned after around half an hour, Azarenka ripped through the next four games and pulled away in the second set, picking up where she left off in Rome, where she reached the quarter-finals.

Azarenka moved well and oozed confidence as she sent Kovinic packing with a series of powerful groundstrokes, especially down-the-line on both flanks.

“I actually was really worried about how I'm going to slide in these conditions,” she said. “But today…I felt that I moved actually really well. I was very fluid with my movement. I was able to slide everywhere. So I guess when I focus on what I need to do better, these things kind of come automatically.”

While some players struggled to maintain motivation during the five-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic, for Azarenka, the time off gave her a chance to reset.

With personal problems finally behind her, she was able to devote more time to herself and her game. It has worked wonders.

“To be honest I feel like I had few last years was kind of difficult,” she said. “So in a way, after a lot of uncertainty with the pandemic and me kind of finding my way to approach a different perspective, it's been a breath of fresh air.

“I would say I was a lot more miserable a few years before than I am now, so I think the journey to get here has been tough. But right now I kind of look at it that as it was a great opportunity for me to kind of finally just look outside of my narrow thinking.

“In a way it's been better for me personally. Everywhere around it's just been a disaster, so that gets me emotional a lot. But I hope we this time will (see) a lot of good changes for people and we will rise above (it) all.”

Azarenka beat Venus Williams in the first round in Rome but said that match would have little or no bearing, should they meet in round two here.

“I think (the influence will be) very minimal because, as I said, it's going to be a lot about adjusting,” she said. “Rome was hot, there was a lot of high bounces, I felt that sometimes I had to jump to hit the return. I'm definitely (not) going to do that here, so I think it's just going to be about adjustment.

“There is no surprises for me or for Venus, I think it's about execution. We all know that execution, even if you know things, you still have to do the job. So that's all about that.”