Djokovic isn’t ‘evil’ – it took me 10 years to weather a cheating storm: Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka said it took her 10 years to get over an accusation of cheating when she last won the Australian Open, and has defended Novak Djokovic who was accused of sustaining an injury during this year’s tournament.

The 33-year-old fell twice backwards at Melbourne Park on Tuesday night, ousting Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2013.

During her run to her second consecutive Australian titles that year, Azarenka was given a nine-minute medical timeout in the semifinals against Sloane Stephens after failing to convert five match points.

Azarenka went on to turn the game around and eventually lift the trophy, but had to defend herself from accusations of finesse and cheating.

The Belarusian later revealed that she had suffered a panic attack in court and could not breathe, causing a long delay.

Azarenka said on Tuesday that she’s only just learned how to deal with self-doubt and anxiety during matches, which can be overwhelming, and she’s only recently moved past those “worst” moments of her career.

“It was one of the worst things I’ve been through in my career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. because people didn’t want to believe me,” she told reporters.

“I can actually echo what Novak said that day,” she added, referring to Djokovic’s response to comments about his hamstring injury.

The 35-year-old Serb appeared to stumble and ache in his early matches with his leg badly bandaged.

But the nine-time champion seemed unhindered as he raced past Australian Alex de Minaur and reached the quarter-finals on Monday, losing just five matches.

Djokovic told Serbian media that he was tired of suggestions he might have faked the injury – and that such insults only pushed him further.

Djokovic, who plays fifth-seeded Russia’s Andrei Rublev in the men’s singles quarter-finals on Wednesday, said he was “an easy target to be the villain.”

“There’s sometimes, like, I don’t know, an incredible desire to have a villain and a hero story to write,” Azarenka said.

“But we’re not villains, we’re not heroes, we’re normal human beings going through way too much,” added the 24th seed after reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open for the first time since 2013. Facing Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

She said that “assumptions and judgments” mean nothing “because there is no one there to see the whole story”.

“It didn’t matter how many times I told my story, it just didn’t touch,” Azarenka said.

“Actually, it’s funny that you say that because I’ve been thinking about it. It took me 10 years to get over that. I finally got over it.”


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