Victoria Azarenka has been dominating the WTA tour for most of 2012. Her first loss came in Key Biscayne. That is in April! Azarenka did not credit a change in grip, stroke, or conditioning for her revelation. Instead it was all about perspective and mental approach.
In the June edition of Tennis magazine, Azarenka discusses the five things that have led to her success:
1. Practice with the intensity of the match
2. Stay calm - but not too calm
3. Find a teaching pro who lets you develop your way
4. Go back to basics when you're losing
5. Enjoy the game
A couple of points hit home with me. First, as a player you can take the biggest steps in your development by changing your mental approach and the way you look at things. Of course I am a believer in this and talk to players about this everyday, but it is nice to have a clear example of how adapting the mental game can make all the difference.
The second point that caught my attention was Azarenka saying confidence is overrated. I agree and also disagree. I agree with the fact that your confidence will come and go and you just have to battle through it. Furthermore, I agree that a player's self-belief should be based on the work they have done in practice - something that they control. By bolstering your confidence on the foundation of your hard work you can believe and trust your stuff even when things are not going well. What I disagree with is the idea that confidence is overrated. It is exactly that trust or a version of confidence in your preparation that Azarenka is relying on and not false confidence. Trusting your stuff, as I blogged about in the past, is a form of confidence that you want to take into a match with you.
Staying calm but not too calm is a very interesting concept. Too often sport psychologists tell athletes to relax but do not realize that the athlete might get outside of their optimal level of emotional and physical energy. Athletes are told to use relaxation, visualization, deep breathing, etc. but not guided to the level of intensity that is going to lead to their success (which is individual by the way). Azarenka clearly struggled with her anger prior to this year, but completely removing that anger would not necessarily be a good thing as she points out in her match against Barthel at the Aussie Open. The fire that Azarenka has for tennis is a positive, it just needs to be channeled in a productive way. And, it seems Vika has found that optimal level of intensity and using her anger to enhance her performance.
Finally, Azarenka gives great advice to get back to basics when you're losing and have fun on the court. This balanced perspective allows a player, Azarenka in this case, to live with the ups and downs of elite tennis without letting it get to her and affect the motivation to do the work in practice.
This was a great article on a talented young player who is now achieving her potential. Azarenka is a favorite at the French Open. With this mental approach I believe she can win her second Grand Slam.