Azarenka seeks recovery from rough ride

World number one Victoria Azarenka's tennis-playing stock has never been higher, but further repairs to her image may be appropriate during her title defence at the Qatar Open, which has nine of the world's top ten, starting Monday.

By winning her second Grand Slam title in Melbourne last month, Azarenka displayed a new resilience and clung on to the world number one ranking ahead of Serena Williams.

It evidenced a capacity for focus in the 23-year-old which is significantly improved since her younger days when spectacular emotional explosions happened all too often.

Azarenka's equanimity was admirable considering the negative energy which was zapping towards her both on and off court after an ill-timed time out she took during her semi-final with Sloane Stephens.

Rather than attempting to retrieve the situation with defensive comments, coach Sam Suryk persuaded Azarenka to do all she could "to let her racket talk" in the final against Li Na.

That will probably be Azarenka's attitude here too during her first appearance since the fuss.

"You have to go through rough patches to achieve things in life," she commented in Australia. " I can only learn from this and move forward and try to improve as a player and as a person."

There are however memories to be set aside in Doha too. Last year Agnieszka Radwanska , the world number four from Poland, claimed she had "lost a lot of respect" for Azarenka after losing to the Belarussian in the Qatar Open semi-final.

This was a reference to Azarenka's allegedly distracting conduct between rallies, with hobbling and wincing, whilst moving well enough during rallies to complete a solid straight sets win.

Azarenka will though take heart from having won a second Australian Open without often being at her best, and from improvements which could stand her in good stead for another title defence over the coming week.

She maintains a greater intensity for longer periods, strikes the ball more frequently from positions closer to or inside the court, and has raised the quality of her service return to intimidating levels.

Azarenka may also be helped by the absence over the next seven days of the in-form Li, whom she beat only narrowly in the Melbourne final. Although Li was hampered by hitting her head during a third set fall, her withdrawal in Doha is said to have been caused by an ankle problem.

Another Chinese player, Peng Shuai, has also withdrawn because of injury, but Zheng Jie, the former Wimbledon semi-finalist who should meet Radwanska in the second round, is reportedly fit.

How true that is of Serena Williams, who exacerbated back and ankle problems in Melbourne, may influence not only the destination of the Qatar Open title but whether Azarenka can hang on to the world number one position.

Williams is very close behind Azarenka in the rankings and has fewer points to defend here. The Wimbledon, Olympic, and US Open champion will therefore only need to reach the semi-finals to be sure of regaining the pinnacle after an interval of two and a half years.

If Williams loses before that Azarenka would remain number one if she were to reach the final. If neither Williams nor Azarenka achieve those targets Maria Sharapova could become number one again by regaining the title she won here in 2008.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 3 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Audi TT Offroad concept debuts as a 124-mpg hybrid with wireless charging 3 hours ago
    Audi TT Offroad concept debuts as a 124-mpg hybrid with wireless charging

    The TT. Audi's diminutive sports car. Since production began in 1998, the two-door coupe has aged with the pugnacity of a grizzled New Yorker, but not in size. And why would it, as the arrival of the TT RS proved, adding some grit makes for a rather captivating dish. And so you'll excuse us for being puzzled by the Audi TT Offroad concept.

  • Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia 7 hours ago
    Wednesday #sgroundup: Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.