A tale of two champions


Christopher Clarey

So, after all that fuss, sweat and suspense - after late-night finishes, medical timeouts and a major upset of Serena Williams the 2013 Australian Open will look like business as usual in the tennis history books. The defending champions in singles were Victoria Azarenka and Novak Djokovic, and they will remain the defending champions after Azarenka's three-set victory over Li Na on Saturday and Djokovic's four-set victory over Andy Murray on Sunday night.

Djokovic, the 25-year-old from Serbia, and Azarenka, the 23-year-old from Belarus, remain No.1 in the rankings. Both are proud and powerful. Both had to sacrifice a normal childhood and leave their families for an extended period in their early teens in order to progress. Djokovic left Serbia for Germany and later Italy. Azarenka left for Spain and later the United States.

But they remain very different public figures. Djokovic has an easy, increasingly sophisticated manner that softens the impression generated by his labour-intensive game. With his prominent place in Serbian culture, he is accustomed to being treated like an ambassador as much as an athlete, but there is an impishness to him that keeps the whole enterprise from veering, for now, into pomposity (not that it makes him any easier to beat).

Hungrier for success

Azarenka still seems edgier, more earnest and palpably hungrier for success. Those are useful qualities in a Darwinian sport where the margins at the top are narrow and where Williams -- despite her loss here to Sloane Stephens -- still looms over the field with her powerful serve and personality. But Azarenka's useful tennis qualities are harder for fans to embrace. Though she clearly knows how to have fun and is quick to make a joke or strike a dance pose in more private settings, she has yet to project that lighter, more nuanced side to the public.

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