A tale of two champions


Melbourne did not help, at least not in the short term, as the catcalls and scattered whistles made clear during the women's final. The acoustics of her power game, with her prolonged wails on impact, have already predisposed many fans to resist her. That background noise surely contributed to some of the tone of the skepticism and resentment sparked by her decision to seek medical treatment at a critical phase of semifinal with Stephens and then explain it initially by talking about her nerves instead of any injury.

Whereas Azarenka — who can deliver a withering glance — might have gone into a tight-lipped, defensive crouch in earlier years, she took a more open approach to this public-relations crisis. She also said that she had reached out to Stephens by text message.

"For me, it was important that me and Sloane are okay, and we talked yesterday, so we're all good," she said. "I sent her a message because I think she was flying, so the phone was off. She sent me back a message, so I'll see her in Doha." (The Qatar Open starts in two weeks.)

In the uproar after the semifinal, Azarenka explained her code of ethics and explained that she truly had a breathing problem linked to a rib injury and was not simply trying to calm her nerves or break Stephens's rhythm by seeking treatment.

She repeated all this in a calm, mature voice with the appropriate touch of vulnerability, and she handled the final and all its plot twists — which included two medical timeouts for Li — with poise as well. The poker face was soon gone, however. And one of the images that will endure from the final was her hunched forward in her seat and sobbing into her towel.

Told that she did not look entirely happy in victory, she thought for a moment. "It wasn't happy but inside it was happy," she said. "It was probably really scary tears of joy."

... contd.

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