Ahead of her weekend clash with the Williams sisters as Belarus meets the U.S.A. in Fed Cup, newly minted Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka spoke to the press in Worcester, Massachusetts.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Can you tell us what the last few days have been like for you since you came back from Australia, how you’re feeling now as the new world No.1.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it’s a great feeling. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I’ve been busy doing a few off‑court activities, also dealing a little bit with the jetlag from Australia is difficult.
It feels great. But I’m here to support my team and just arrived today. Kind of still feeling the team spirit.
Q. You went from Australia right to L.A.?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yes.
Q. Take us how the last couple days have gone for you.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I was resting. I did a show, like a talking show Ellen Degeneres. Went to see Kobe Bryant play for the Lakers. That’s pretty much it. A little bit of resting, relaxing, that’s it.
Q. Was there a point in the match with Maria Sharapova where you thought you could win it?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I was really focusing trying one at a time, not thinking ahead too much, because that’s one of the biggest mistake I think to do during the match, if you think too much ahead. I was really trying to play one point at a time. That’s it, keep going.
Q. When you go to sleep at night do you feel like the No.1, Grand Slam champion?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: No, I go to sleep exactly the same way. I sleep on my stomach as I was before (laughter). That’s pretty much it.
Of course, I’m really proud. It’s a great feeling to have. But I just want to work hard and try to keep the same motivation as I have now.
Q. What is it like playing on this surface out here? How have you found it?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it was my first time. Just finished practice. It’s a little bit different, I would say. It’s a little bit crooked. But, I mean, it’s the same for everybody. The bounce is a little bit tricky here. It bounce really high.
But, I mean, in Australia it was also kind of similar, high. I have a little bit of time to adjust. It’s good.
Q. Do you feel more pressure being on the No.1 ranked player in the world, from your team, to kind of carry them?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: No. I mean, we are a team. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not only one person. It’s about teamwork, team spirit. No, no pressure. I just met them today.
Q. Do you feel more of a challenge now that you are the top‑ranked player in the world? Other players are looking at you and are wanting to take you on specifically?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: It’s definitely going to be more challenging. A lot of people are going to have more motivation.
But I feel like being No.1 I want to work as I’m No. 2.
Q. Venus hasn’t played since the US Open. Serena has an injured ankle. Are you preparing as they will be the two singles players you’ll face or does it matter to you?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, we’ll see. I mean, U.S. have a great team. Yeah, Venus didn’t play for a while. But she’s not a beginner. She knows how to play tennis. Doesn’t really matter.
Serena has been showing some tennis I think lately. I don’t know about her ankle. It’s not my part. But I’m preparing for her to be a hundred percent, and that’s it.
Q. Talk about the challenge of facing either of them. You haven’t played Venus or Serena since 2008. Would you relish the chance to play them?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I played Serena last year twice (laughter).
Venus, yes, I haven’t played her in a while. I just played her in an exhibition match, which was pretty irrelevant comparing to now. But, I mean, they’re both tough players. As I said, they know how to play tennis. They know how to handle big matches.
Fed Cup is completely different than when you play for your own. It’s different matches. We’ve seen in history very different results. So we’ll see how it goes.
Q. Do you have a preference of which of the two sisters you’d like to open the tournament with?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: That’s no preference really. It’s like you have preference more when you choose your dinner or lunch.
Q. Now that you’ve won your first slam, what’s the next goal for you?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Another slam.
Q. After he won the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic went a long time without losing. Are you planning on winning for a while?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: No, I’m planning on losing my next match. It’s just a very silly question, I think.
Q. What kind of mental attitude does it take to be the best at anything?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I’d say it’s a lot of hard work and dedication to be a real professional 24/7. It’s not only when you step on the court you have to try to be professional and be your best. It’s all the details and all the things you do off the court, which are sometimes more important than when you perform.
Q. Most matches are Saturday. Will there be time to talk about your games and how you can help one another?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Yeah, for sure. But we know each other pretty well. The girls on the team, I know since I was 10 years old, actually even younger. I mean, we go for official dinner, bring like a board and draw some plans.
No, I mean, we’ll see. We’re going to have definitely team meetings like every team does. But we just try to stay loose and keep our focus for Saturday.
Q. You played a lot of Fed Cup matches. What is it that you love about Fed Cup that makes you want to keep coming back and playing for the team?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I’m a patriot of my country. I think it’s important for all the athletes to participate and play for your country. We do it pretty much all year long, like Olympic Games.
But it’s a special event. It’s the only the event where we play as a team. It’s fun. I think it’s important.
Q. What has the reaction been like in Belarus?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: You should ask my captain.
CAPTAIN POUTCHEK: She doesn’t know yet.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I haven’t been there. My mom told me a little bit, that people were really happy. I’m really proud of that. For me the most important is that it brings extra motivation for kids to go out there and chase their dreams, believing in themselves. Hopefully we’ll have more competition with the juniors. That’s what’s missing right now.
I hope this kind of a breakthrough would help the inspiration for the young ones.
Q. Were you in Belarus?
CAPTAIN POUTCHEK: Yeah, I was. It was huge. I would say it’s like, I don’t know, 80% or 90% of population was watching, like everybody. Everybody were on TV watching the match.
It was spectacular. Everybody talking only about Victoria, about the first Grand Slam, about having No.1 in the world for the first time. It’s huge.
Q. Are you going to do anything, like in Serbia, where you go on a balcony and wave to everybody?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I don’t know if we have the balcony.
CAPTAIN POUTCHEK: We’ll find one. But now it’s too cold to go on the balcony.
Q. What do you think will happen when the team returns home?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, it’s not going to be for a while. We have our plans after. I have my tournaments after here. So it’s a little bit difficult, you know, to go back because it’s going to be a lot of attention. I would like to stay focused and keep going through the year.
Of course, I’m going to go home, but when I have a little bit longer break, when I can give a little bit of time and attention for people, for media, plus have some attention for myself and for my family.
Q. After Miami?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Maybe before Indian Wells. But don’t write it.
Q. What is your advice for aspiring athletes to be No.1, just athletes in general?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I always think and say that you always have to have fun. You know, when you do something that you love, that you enjoy doing, even though it’s hard, it’s never going to be easy. But when you have fun, you always going to do it better because you give your heart, you give your passion into it. You put the best chances and your best attitude on your side.
I think the result becomes more productive.
Q. What makes tennis fun for you?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: The atmosphere, the game. I mean, I have huge passion for the game. My first coach taught me that love of the game. It’s difficult to explain with the words. But it’s the feeling every time you step on the court, it’s like you’re in this bubble that people are focusing on you, and you try to produce the best as you can, you’re trying to be the best as you can. But you have another person who’s trying to do the same. So it’s this battle. As funny as it sounds, you enjoy that battle. When it’s hard, when it’s pain, when it’s hot outside, you enjoy it.
Q. Did you get a chance to talk with Kobe?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I wish. I was sitting, he looked at me a few times. I was like, Oh, my God. My mom was so happy to watch how he was playing. She was like, Oh, my God, he’s unbelievable. It’s amazing to see live. It was my first times a well.
It’s pretty remarkable.
Q. Super Bowl is coming up. Who do you think will win?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I’m not really big football fan. But I think it’s great game. I’m just not that into it. But I think it’s very interesting game. When I get to know few athletes, it becomes more and more interesting.
I would love to follow more. My fitness coach is crazy about it, checking live scores when we were practicing and stuff. Whoever my team is cheering for I’m going to cheer for.
Q. If Belarus is able to beat the U.S. what would that mean for you personally and professionally?
CAPTAIN POUTCHEK: Well, I mean, I of course would be very happy for my team and for the result. I think it’s going to be great for us to move one step forward to the World Group.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I think we should talk about it on Sunday. It’s too early to speak about it.
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