VICTORIA Azarenka last night insisted the need for a medical time-out late in her Australian Open semi-final win over Sloane Stephens was genuine, and not an act of gamesmanship
Defending champion Azarenka headed to the locker room for attention immediately after squandering five match points in trying to serve out the match against her 19-year-old opponent. She returned ten minutes later to win the next game and complete a 6-1, 6-4 win.
In her post-match press conference, she explained she was suffering from a locked rib which left her struggling to breathe. Yet, in the on-court interview straight after her victory, she made no mention of the injury and hinted she had simply required time to calm her nerves. When asked why she had to leave the court, she said: “I almost did the choke of the year.
“At 5-3 and having so many chances I couldn’t close it out. I felt a little bit overwhelmed and, realising I was one step away, nerves got into me.”
The world No 1 emerged to face the media an hour later and explained she had misunderstood the question put to her by Sam Smith, the former British Fed Cup player who now works for host broadcaster Channel Seven. She said: “I did not understand what she asked me because the question was about how I had a few difficulties and why I went off. I completely thought of a different thing, why I couldn’t close out the match, that I had a few difficulties. I understand the whole situation right now but it was just a simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess that’s my bad.”
Asked if she understood why people may perceive it as gamesmanship, she added: “I don’t because it was necessary.”
Azarenka claimed the rib injury flared up at 4-2 in the second set. “I had been struggling a little bit throughout the whole match, from the second set, and it just kept getting worse,” she said. “I should have called the trainer a little bit earlier before I got to the point that I couldn’t really breathe. I understand the point of people maybe not understanding what I said and me not understanding what I had been asked. So I’m glad I can make everything clear.”