Azarenka makes Djokovic plea and admits doubts over ‘cheating’ scandal

Novak Djokovic jokes about his age at the Australian Open

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Resurgent Australian Open semi-finalist Victoria Azarenka says she feels sympathy for Novak Djokovic as she passionately pleaded for players to stop being treated like “villains”. Djokovic’s hamstring injury has dominated the headlines at Melbourne Park as the Serbian legend chases a record-extending 10th Aussie Open crown.

But the 35-year-old, now the overwhelming favourite to win the tournament, has been accused by critics of exaggerating the extent of his injury troubles. The fourth seed has raised doubts over his fitness after wearing heavy strapping on his left leg and taking medical timeouts in his second and third-round matches.

But Djokovic has still stormed through to a 13th quarter-final in his most successful Grand Slam and lost only four five games as he crushed home hope Alex de Minaur on Monday. Djokovic had said he was an “easy target to be the villain’ after commentators questioned an innocuous bathroom break earlier in the tournament. 

And after cruising through to the last eight, he hit back at his critics, telling Serbian media that ‘only my injuries are questioned’ and that he doesn’t ‘need to prove anything to anyone’. 

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Former world No.1 Azarenka, a contender for her third Aussie Open title, resonates with Djokovic after feeling similarly aggrieved the last time she reached this stage of the tournament a decade ago.

“We are regular human beings that go through many, many things,” she said. “I can resonate with what Novak said the other day. There is sometimes, I don’t know, an incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written.

“But we’re not villains and we’re not heroes. “Nobody is there to see the full story and it didn’t matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through…it took me 10 f***ing years to get over it and I am finally over that.”

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Belarus star Azarenka was caught in her own gamesmanship scandal in her Mebourne semi-final against Sloane Stephens in 2013. The 33-year-old took a controversial medical timeout at a key stage of the match after suffering a panic attack, but was accused of ‘cheating’ as she left the court immediately after wasting five match points, before returning to book her place in the final.

And she has now opened up on how she even started to doubt herself amid huge backlash after the incident, which she has now put firmly behind her.

“I’ve been called that I’m cheating, that I’m faking, that I was trying to throw people off their game,” she added. “It’s everything that is so wrong about my character if somebody actually knows me.

“At some points I’ve heard that, ‘she has this thing that is bad or this thing is bad’. At some point you’re like: ‘Really? Am I?’ Those doubts starts to creep in. Now I just don’t care. I am more and more confident in what I know about myself, and I’m at peace with that. Those comments, judgments, they’re there. I notice them. But I don’t care.”

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