Was Azarenka the victim?

brad cooper Roar Rookie

By brad cooper, brad cooper is a Roar Rookie

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    Victoria Azarenka takes on Barbora Strycova for a place in the Aussie Open quarter finals. (AFP PHOTO/Luis Acosta)

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    If the great life lessons of sport are in losing, does this mean champions inevitably fall through the cracks of civility?

    The vilification of Victoria Azarenka over her dubious time-out against Sloane Stephens in this week’s Australian Open has again raised questions of our expectations of grace and piety from winners.

    But do we set the moral bar too high for athletes?

    Maybe we should all take a deep breath and consider whether it takes some serious darkness of soul to dedicate one’s self, from age 6, to subjugating all who dare stand on the other side of a net.

    Actually, let’s include those who stand beside the net too, as an unfortunate lineswoman found out in a recent Serena Wiliams US Open appearance.

    It’s a doddle to accept that sportsmen under pressure may occasionally behave intemperately or boorishly, but where should we draw the line? Many would reply that if the rules do not disqualify them for their outburst or infraction, then it’s all okay.

    Others would have no qualms about barring the offender from not just the court or arena, but from plaudits of ‘civil life’ as well. Witness the absurdity of those propriety-fascists who judged Joey Johns unworthy of rugby league ‘immortals’ inclusion for his off-field misdemeanours.

    And what about kicking a ball-boy in a football match. Will we ever be sure if the player was merely trying to dislodge the ball, or if the boy was illegally smothering it?.

    And what about David Nalbandian causing physical injury to a linesman’s leg after loutishly kicking an advertising billboard?

    Should we all shrug and mumble it’s ‘grist for the mill’ for tabloids – all part of that big PR psychodrama we cynically call the 24-7 media cycle?

    Bad or unsportsmanlike behaviour deserves to be penalised, but let’s not rush in to place halos on the heads of winners only so we can righteously yank them off again.

    Hopefully, we are slowly beginning to accept elite sportsmen as flawed demi-beings occupying the same firmament as showbiz celebs and pop stars. Who would deny Mick Jagger a place in the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame just because he dropped acid in the 60s.

    How did this curious moral apartheid of sportsmen in our pantheon of cultural heroes start anyway?

    Is it because we want our children to become sports stars that we cast such a stern paternal eye over them? Some of us want our brats to be musicians or politicians too, yet we don’t require those to be perfect role models.

    Let’s also keep in mind that many sports stars spring from seriously dysfunctional parenting. Remember the tennis player, Mary Pierce? Her father was banned from some of her matches, and a restraining order placed on him for fear of assaulting his daughter.

    And Mr Damir Dokic? He made threats against public peace back in Serbia, with a cache of explosives and the like.

    Mr Agassi? According to Andre’s recent memoir, Agassi senior walked around with salt and pepper in his pockets to throw in the eyes of anyone who took umbrage against his habitual road rage.

    Perhaps instead of joining the occasional chorus of condemnation, we should all be marvelling instead at how our top athletes keep it together – for the most part – in today’s pressure cooker of global scrutiny.

    And yes, I know, they get paid for it.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • January 28th 2013 @ 4:00am
      Johnno said | January 28th 2013 @ 4:00am | ! Report

      David Nalbandian’s outburst, is right up there with the most disgraceful events I have seen in world sport. Was disgraceful, ye she was angry and an accident but was disgraceful, that linesmen, could of bleed to death, if his leg was cut open and it cut an artery. Was disgraceful, Nalbandian should of been banned for 2 years for that incident , if I would of had a say on the matter.

      Li Na played with a lot of pain in the final, with her ankle, and she did very well, and i think if she was injury free she would of won. I wish in the rule book , there was something to have disqualified Azerenka in that semi-final, was also disgraceful. Under-arm blowing was wrong too, but in the rules.

      For me Micheal Chang’s underarm serving was disgraceful, and tennis after that match should of banned under-arm serving if it hasn’t already. Lendl could of killed him, and had to show immense physical restraint not to belt the ball back hard as a strong forehand could of killed Chang. It unfairly put Lendl in a compromising position.

      I disagree Bad on the poltician’s side, they are put under a lot of pressure to be role model’s , at least in Australia anyway,
      When they are in office. There past deeds are forgiven before they enter parliament, but when in parliament , they are tightly bound by a high moral code, any moral or non role model slip ups have cost them there jobs.

      Stephanie Rice gave a tearful press conference apologising , for some tweets. I think sport’s stars are held too account, mainly coz of sponsor’s , want good role model’s.

    • January 28th 2013 @ 8:18am
      Darwin Hammer said | January 28th 2013 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Seems like Aust Day is still being celebrated by some

    • January 28th 2013 @ 11:43am
      Undertheposts said | January 28th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      I thought the Melbourne crowd’s treatment of Azarenka was disgraceful. She never broke the rules. And how do we know the injury wasn’t fake? Yet we are led to believe that Li’s injuries were real. Really? Were they? If you slowed down the tape, you would see that her first fall was just a slip. She didn’t roll an ankle like the commentators and some press were telling us. She took a 5 minute break for that. Her second fall was due to being off balance while trying to hit a two handed backhand. If she stretched with a one hand backhand, she would not have fallen. She did appear to hit her head fairly hard, though.

      I honestly think that we are made to believe the media more than we should. Hazard’s indiscretion in the EPL match had a report that started with “Hazard kicks ballboy…”, just like you mentioned in the article above. In the next sentence you raised suspicion in the credibility of the incident, suggesting dislodging the ball or the ballboys antics. Why couldn’t the headline be “Hazard’s desire for quick ball suggests foul play…” While your example is inconsequential (sorry, not a good one), there were many articles that harrangued Hazard for his performance assuming he was totally wrong.

      In short, I feel the media generally forms the opinions of observers because they accept the media’s judgement. Many times it is wrong. There are many times, too, where the media make assumptions on incidents and the public are led to believe the story.

      Rant over. But would like to hear more opinions about this. Let’s not prejudge sportspeople harshly without all the facts.

      • January 28th 2013 @ 12:12pm
        DeanP said | January 28th 2013 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        what did the crowd do that was so out of the ordinary as to be called ‘disgraceful’ ?

        • January 28th 2013 @ 12:20pm
          Undertheposts said | January 28th 2013 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          • January 28th 2013 @ 12:37pm
            DeanP said | January 28th 2013 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

            is that all? Were you at the game? I wasn’t, so had to watch it on the tv. I can’t say I heard a lot of booing. The commentators were certainly talking it up though. They seemed almost disappointed at the lack of jeering when Vika was introduced. It’s fair to say that Li Na was the favourite with the crowd. But no more so than when a local is playing. The applause for Vika may have been subdued, but no more so then whenever Serena is playing anyone. While I can appreciate the need to be seen as fair and sporting etc, there does seem to be a tendency for Ozzies to indulge in self-flagellation rather too readily. A symptom of a guilty conscience, I suspect.

            • January 28th 2013 @ 5:38pm
              undertheposts said | January 28th 2013 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

              No, I wasn’t at the “game” Dean, but some people I knew went to that match. I, like you, watched it on TV. There was some booing, but as Azarenka pointed out, not as much as she expected. Remember, you only need a handful of people to boo to make it sound a lot. In any case, I just feel booing a player in those circumstances was not necessary. Unless proof could be shown that she did fake the injury, it was not justified. That’s my beef.

              I don’t quite understand your point about us Aussies indulging in self-flagellation.I wish there was more of it, in fact, but I don’t see much of it.

              Anyway, as pointed out by others, the injury rule in tennis badly needs addressing. It is the same with all tennis players and I hope they deal with this in the immediate future before it explodes out of control.

              • January 29th 2013 @ 5:38am
                DeanP said | January 29th 2013 @ 5:38am | ! Report

                You called the crowd disgraceful. Yet now point out that Vika was expecting worse.

                perhaps you were only following the lead of the media?


              • January 29th 2013 @ 7:42am
                Undertheposts said | January 29th 2013 @ 7:42am | ! Report

                I couldn’t give a rat’s if Vika was expecting more, expecting less or expecting nothing. If there was booing from the crowd based on the assumption she was faking injury, then I think it was disgraceful. JMO.

                I do not make judgements on one source.

    • January 28th 2013 @ 12:53pm
      Kev said | January 28th 2013 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

      Azarenka’s only mistake was to admit that she used an injury time out to buy some time because she was under the pump from her opponent and let’s be honest, she’s not the first player to do that and she won’t be the last. Serena Williams and Gael Monfils are two players who are notorious for feigning injuries when they are being beaten only to run at 100% once back on court. Was her injury real? Maybe yes maybe no but it doesn’t matter. If the WTA and ATP are serious about stamping this out then get rid of injury time outs. If players are genuinely injured they can still retire hurt if not, they won’t have an avenue for buying time and anything else in between they’ll need to suck up like any professional athlete. How many other sports pause play to allow an injured player to have treatment to the extent that tennis does?

      • January 28th 2013 @ 8:37pm
        Maggie said | January 28th 2013 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

        Azarenka didn’t admit she used injury time out to buy time. It is quite clear when you watch/listen to the interview that she misunderstood the question. She thought she was responding to a question about why she faltered in her play in the second set. It was a typical media beat-up to report that she had admitted she had misused injury time. The question of whether she really was injured is a separate issue and a legitimate question. But remember she could only ask for the trainer – it is the medico who made the decision to take her off for treatment. I agree that this whole issue needs to be examined but the criticism of Azarenka has been over-the-top.

        • January 29th 2013 @ 12:16pm
          Shaun said | January 29th 2013 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

          Quite clear? She was asked the exact same question as she was in her second interview. Only the answers were different.
          If she truly had a panic attack, then she should not be playing a high-pressure game like tennis. If she was truly struggling with injuries, why was this not reported earlier, and why did we not see any signs of this in her previous games?
          And why was Sloane forced to stay outside in sweltering heat when Azarenka was allowed into air conditioning?
          Saying she just misunderstood the question the first time around is not an answer. Even if she did, she still admitted to freaking out and that’s not what the medical breaks are for.

    • January 28th 2013 @ 9:44pm
      Rob from Brumby Country said | January 28th 2013 @ 9:44pm | ! Report

      It’s hard to be sure if Azarenka took that time-out as a choke-check or not… It seems that she felt she had been misunderstood in her original interview, so I’d be happy to take her at her word. The bottom line is that Stephens was fine with it, so that settles the matter for me.

      But until she stops grunting on every single shot in matches, I will continue to consider her a cheat.

      • January 28th 2013 @ 10:15pm
        Maggie said | January 28th 2013 @ 10:15pm | ! Report

        Ah, hard to disagree with you about that grunting. She should have had that ‘faulted’ out of her early in her career. Mind you there was plenty of grunting in the men’s final and as for Djokovic’s ball bouncing ,,,,.! A lot of gamesmanship that the tennis authorities have failed to control.

    • January 29th 2013 @ 4:06am
      brad cooper said | January 29th 2013 @ 4:06am | ! Report

      I acknowledge your point Johnno, about those in public office being held to account for breaching trust. And so they should because their CV hinges on the notion of public duty. In fact the courts often sentence them more stiffly than they would a similarly offending ‘civvy’ because of that high expectation. But my point was that we are rarely as surprised by their feet of clay as we seem to be by sportsmen’s. And the majority of sportsmen’s transgressions do not involve the criminal justice system, just exploitation of rules. Yet they, like entertainers, do not pretend to be in it for anything but shared gratification at best. Any altruism or grace they show under pressure, to me, is a bonus, not a given.

      I still don’t share people’s annoyance with tennis grunting though. Even Djoklovic and Murray were using slight vocalisation during some of their strokes. I’m sure there’s a valid physiological or proprioceptive explanation. Monica Seles was the absolute ‘queen of squeal’ and I always saw that as complementary entertainment. Slam players have extremely high levels of visual acuity (eye-hand coordination etc), but that doesn’t automatically exclude aural elements from stroke enhancement. I don’t think a barrister and exercise scientist would have any trouble snuffing moves to ban it. Djokovic’s ball bouncing? He seems to have a profound respect for the game and his opponents, so as far as ball bouncing goes, we’ll have to live with it. If anything should be banned, it should be Sharapova’s little ‘shuffle adjustments’ in her walk between points. Just kidding. Agassi once had the same ‘tic’.

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