Victoria Azarenka creates controversy with questionable injury timeout
In the second set of a 2013 Australian Open women’s singles semifinal, world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was melting down. Ahead in the match 6-1, 4-2, Azarenka was on serve when she double-faulted twice to lose the seventh game of the set. Her opponent, Sloane Stephens, had upset Serena Williams the day before, and all Stephens had to do was hold serve to knot the second set at 4-4.
But Stephens couldn’t do it. She lost the game on an unforced backhand error to give Azarenka the break and the 5-3 lead. Still, Azarenka could not get herself together. The world No. 1 blew five match points on unforced errors in the ninth game of the set to lose the game. It was 5-4, and Azarenka was in danger of blowing the match.
That’s when the controversy erupted. Azarenka, who had been yelling and screaming and smashing balls on the court, called for a trainer, who barely tended to her on court for a few minutes before Azarenka and the trainer left the court for an extended period of time on an injury timeout.
She returned to the court after nine minutes, a very long injury timeout by tennis standards. Azarenka won the match in the next game on an unforced error from Stephens. It was a quick turnaround after what appeared to be a serious injury.
What was Azarenka’s injury? We may never know.
Immediately after the match, an on-court reporter asked Azarenka what led to her difficulties that caused her to leave the court.
“Well, I almost did the choke of the year,” Azarenka said. “At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn’t close it out.”
Azarenka then went down toward the locker room for a second interview before meeting with her team. The 23-year-old further damaged her image by claiming she left the court because she panicked.
“I couldn’t breathe. I had chest pains,” she said. “It was like I was getting a heart attack. After that it wasn’t my best, but it’s important to overcome this little bit of a struggle and win the match.”
While players are allowed to leave the court in tennis for injury treatment, panic attacks and nerves are not considered injuries. Azarenka’s immediate post-match statements therefore infuriated announcers and former tennis stars Pam Shriver and Chrissie Evert.
Shriver and Evert accused Azarenka of bending the rules in order to calm herself down. “You cannot leave the court for 10 minutes like that,” Shriver said on ESPN. “That is not the rules of the game.”
Another former tennis player-turned-announcer, Patrick McEnroe, called Azarenka out on Twitter.
Over an hour after the match, after meeting with her team, Azarenka corrected her earlier answers as to why she left the court and claimed she had a “locked rib”.
Stephens showed no bitter feelings toward Azarenka following the bizarre timeout. When asked whether Stephens thought Azarenka took a break to calm herself down, Stephens said she believed it was a medical issue.
“I mean, when you take a medical break or timeout, obviously it’s for a reason. Just a normal, routine break, medical timeout,” Stephens said. “Like if it was one of my friends, I would say, Oh, my God, that sounds like a PP, which is a personal problem. Other than that, it’s just unfortunate.”
But while Stephens did not seem to have a problem with Azarenka’s timeout, it seems Stephens’ coach, David Nainkin, did.
“I thought it was very unfair – cheating within the rules,” Nainkin said. “It was unsportsmanlike. I don’t think you should be able to leave the court before the opponent serves for 10 minutes for whatever reason. You’d better have something pretty good. I think there’s a grey area in the rule book that shouldn’t be allowed. End of story.”
So was Azarenka’s timeout appropriate or necessary? Let us know in the comments below.