Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka aren’t as different as it might seem from the outside. They both own two majors, and won one title in 2012 and another in 2013 (the U.S. Open and Wimbledon for Murray and two Australian Open championships for Azarenka). Both of them prefer the firm footing of a hard court. They can be, eh, vocal when playing - he to his baller box and she to basically anyone who is in earshot of the stadium. And, for the last few weeks these former top-five ballers have been sitting at number ten in their tour’s respective world rankings. With the North American hard-court season and the US Open Series underway, Muzz and Vika will be looking to salvage a so far forgettable season on a surface where they thrive.
No one was really surprised about the let down that occurred after Muzz became the first British man in 77 years to lift the Wimbledon trophy last summer. He had spent years hearing the voices and feeling the pressure of being “the one” who could finally end the drought. When he converted match point against Novak Djokovic during the lengthy final game of the men's championship match, like a pressure valve, the years of expectation were released in a primal scream.
At the U.S. Open, Muzz, the defending champion, reached the quarterfinals but also dealt with a recurring lower back injury. He underwent surgery at the end of 2013, and entered 2014 not in the best form. At the Australian Open he reached the quarterfinals falling to Roger Federer, and the fourth round and quarterfinals at Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. It was during his campaign at the Miami Masters where he and coach Ivan Lendl parted ways. Lendl was looking to play more on the Champions Tour and it affected the amount of time he could dedicate to Muzz.
After getting thumped by Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semifinals, the 27-year ended the speculation about his coaching situation by announcing the appointment of Amelie Mauresmo for the grass-court season (he is expected to officially announce Amelie as his full-time coach soon). Wimbledon, where Mopey Murray rose from the dead during a straight-set loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, was too soon for the partnership to show any effect. But Muzz will be hoping the fellow 2-time major winner can help him rediscover his motivation and reestablish his confidence.
“I have a very strong coaching team already in place, but I think Amelie brings with her experience and tactical expertise and will push us all to improve, “ he said about the decision. “Everyone I know talks very highly of Amelie, as a person and coach, and I’m convinced that her joining the team will help us push on – I want to win more grand slams.”A good start would be reaching a tour final, something he hasn’t done since winning Wimbledon (a pretty shocking stat for a baller with his resume). He’s certainly been hard at work. The Brit has been posting a constant stream of photos and videos on his Facebook page showcasing some of his workout regiment under the watchful eye of the Frenchwoman. But it’s not all work; he took some time out to catch up with fans during a hilarious #AskAndy Facebook Q&A. Andy’s first tourney in the U.S. Open Series will be the Rogers Cup Masters on Aug. 4th where he’s a former champion. Ballers say going back to a place they’ve had success gives them confidence they can do well again. Let’s hope he has better luck in Toronto than he did at Wimbledon.
Vika had a solid start to the 2014 season reaching the finals in Brisbane where she lost to Serena Williams. As the two-time defending champion at the Australian Open, she eased here way through the draw, not losing a set until the quarterfinals where she was defeated in three sets by a zoning Agnieszka Radwanska in a breathtaking, jaw-dropping display of all-court tennis.
A left foot injury forced the Belarusian to withdraw from the Qatar Open in February where she was also the two-time defending champion. She attempted a return at Indian Wells but did not look anything close to healthy in her loss to American Lauren Davis in her first match at the tourney. Withdrawals from Miami, Monterrey, Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros followed. While she was certainly frustrated by her absence from the game, Azarenka took a decidedly philosophical approach telling the French sports newspaper L'Equipe,
“I've really played very well the past three years, and this is maybe my body sending me a signal, finding a way to tell me to take a step back. This has given me the opportunity to do different things, analyze why I miss tennis at this point."Azarenka announced her return to competition at Eastbourne where she received a wild card. Although she lost in her first match against Italy’s Camilla Giorgi, it went three sets and nearly three hours, and her foot held up. Wimbledon soon followed where she fell in the second round to Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski in another tight three-setter.
Both matches proved that, although she was lacking match play, her fight was still very much intact. Ever the fierce competitor, it wasn’t enough for Azarenka to just be competing again; she expected to win. “The thing is that I created a lot of things to make happen for me today,” she said at the time. “I just didn't use any of those opportunities. All that stuff that I built up was good, but not taking advantage was not great.”
Her summer hard-court campaign begins this week at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. It will be good measure for her game with the likes of world number one ReRe, Angelique Kerber, Dominika Cibulkova, Ana Ivanovic, and a resurgent Venus Williams in the draw. Vika reached three finals last summer, including at the U.S. Open, which means she could fall even further down the rankings with some early losses. If Azarenka wants to begin the climb back to the top of the sport and save what's left of the season, she'll need to start with a strong showing during the U.S. Open Series.
[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]