||01-10-2013 10:20 AM
according to all of those studies, yes.
But then you read stories like this:
Azarenka's dedication paid off with her first Grand Slam singles title in the recent Australian Open and the No. 1 ranking. She is 17-0 with three titles this year entering the BNP Paribas Open, Wednesday through March 18 in Indian Wells.
"She would say, 'I can't go home. I feel terrible. I can't volley. I need to work on my volley," Sacramento State men's coach Slava Konikov, a 50-year-old Minsk native who taught Azarenka from age 8 to 14, said with a heavy accent. "I coach 34 years, and I never see anything like it. Most say, 'I don't have time today.' That's why she's No. 1 now. She told me all the time, 'Coach, let's go.' "
Azarenka's parents, Alla and Fedor, named their daughter Victoria because it's Latin for victory. Alla, who managed a tennis center, introduced Victoria to the sport at 7 and asked Konikov, an acquaintance, to work with her.
"She always told me, 'I want to be No. 1,' " said Konikov, who also coached countrymen Max Mirnyi, a former world No. 1 in doubles, and Vladimir Voltchkov, the first qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semifinals (2000) since John McEnroe in 1977. "She give me big energy every practice. ...
"I tell the (Sac State) guys, 'You need to believe you can be better.' 'Oh, no, Slava, it's tough.' Victoria Azarenka, every practice was like last practice (of her career). It's easy for coach. ...
"I'm like, 'Come on, you're a kid.' 'I want to be No. 1 -- what I have to do?' 'You have to work five or six hours a day.' "
No problem. Azarenka, who grew to be 6-foot, practiced five days a week and played matches or tournaments on weekends.
"She was never sick," Konikov said. "She never missed practice. Same with Mirnyi and Voltchkov. This is very important. She played very fast and hit hard. She told me, 'I want to play like a man, not a girl.' "
And these were not normal lessons and practice matches.
"Any ball, if it go out, she play it," Konikov recalled. "She never see lines. She play fence to fence."
Azarenka did not want a level playing field. She wanted to play with handicaps. Anything she could do to make life on the court tougher on herself, she would. Playing against boys and men. Giving herself only one serve. Giving her opponent the doubles alleys. Starting games at 0-15 or 0-30.
Azarenka's biggest handicap, though, was built-in. Impatience. If anything, she had too much desire. Konikov recalled the first time he saw Azarenka play.
"She was very nervous and throwing her racket," he said. "Her problem from the beginning was that after one practice, she wanted to feel she learned something. 'I need to learn the forehand today.' 'No, maybe (it takes) two months or two years.'
"I told her, 'If you be more patient, you'll be a great tennis player. Tennis is not easy. It's a tough sport.' At 10 or 11, she started to understand."
Still, Azarenka was never satisfied and needed constant encouragement.
"She was crying every single practice if something was wrong," Konikov continued. "We talked a lot: 'You're great, better than yesterday. You beat this girl.' 'No, she's terrible.' She beat her 6-0, 6-0 but was not excited. Every time, 'No, I want to be better.' "
In contrast, Konikov mentioned students at the Spare Time Junior Tennis Academy, where he also teaches in Sacramento.
"(I say,) 'You're missing so many balls. How do you feel?' 'I feel great.' 'Maybe you need to start crying. Why you're not No. 1?' " Konikov said.
With her talent, size and desire, Azarenka clearly was headed in that direction.
"She wasn't my first student," Konikov noted. "I had Mirnyi and Voltchkov. Max said he wanted to play with her (when she was) 11 or 12. Max was (23 or 24). He said (afterward) she can be No.1."