Australian Open semi-finalist Victoria Azarenka said she felt sympathy for Novak Djokovic and pleaded for the players not to be treated as “bad guys”.
Belarusian Azarenka, 33, is in her first semi-final in Melbourne since 2013 – when the legitimacy of her medical stoppage against Sloane Stephens was questioned.
Serbian Djokovic has been accused of dramatizing the extent of a hamstring injury during the Australian Open.
“We are ordinary human beings going through many, many things,” she said.
“There’s sometimes, I don’t know, an incredible desire to have a villain and a hero story that needs to be written.
“But we’re not villains and we’re not heroes.”
Nine-time men’s champion Djokovic, who faces Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev in the men’s singles quarter-final on Wednesday at 08.30 GMT, said earlier this week he was an “easy target to be the bad guy”.
Djokovic was reportedly unhappy with the validity of his toilet break in a second-round win over Frenchman Enzo Couacaud was questioned.
The fourth seed has worn heavy straps on his left thigh the entire tournament, taking a medical timeout against Couacaud and also in his third round win over Grigor Dimitrov.
Following his fourth-round win over Australian Alex de Minaur, Djokovic was also flagged having told the Serbian media that only his injuries “were in doubt”.
“I leave the doubt to these people – let them doubt,” he added.
“Only my injuries are in question. When other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it’s me, I pretend.”
Amid discussion of Djokovic’s physical condition, US world number nine Taylor Fritz said the majority of the players were still “a bit bumped”.
“I don’t think people fake injuries, I think sometimes players stretch the severity of the injury because it depressurizes them and helps them play better,” he added.
Charges taken Azarenka “10 years to recover”
Azarenka’s victory over Stephens in the 2013 semi-final proved controversial after he took a long medical time off at a crucial moment in the game.
After failing to serve up the win, the Belarusian was given a 10-minute break and returned for the break in the next game to secure their place in the final.
Azarenka, now 33, went on to defeat China’s Li Na and win back-to-back titles at Melbourne Park.
“It’s one of the worst things I’ve experienced in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment,” she said.
“The way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. because people didn’t want to believe me.
“In fact, I can echo what Novak said the other day.”
Ten years later, Azarenka says she’s “finally done” with the way she felt treated.
“I’ve been told I was cheating, pretending, trying to trick people out of their game. That’s all that’s wrong with my character if anyone actually knows me,” a- she declared.
“At times I’ve heard ‘she’s got this thing that’s bad or that thing’s bad’. At some point you’re like, ‘Really? Am I?” These doubts are starting to set in.
“Now I don’t care. I have more and more confidence in what I know about myself, and I’m at peace with that. Those comments, those judgments, they’re there. I notice them. worry.”
Azerenka will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the semifinals after beating third seed Jessica Pegula in straight sets on Tuesday.
What’s happening on Wednesday?
In the women’s draw, the second semi-final will be decided on Wednesday as Karolina Pliskova takes on Magda Linette at 00:00 GMT before fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka takes on Donna Vekic.
It will be a first Grand Slam quarter-final for Pole Linette, 30, while Pliskova – seeded 30th – of the Czech Republic is targeting her first semi-final at Melbourne Park since 2019.
Croatian Vekic and Belarusian Sabalenka – the only top-10 seed remaining in the draw – face off in what is a first Australian Open quarter-final for both.
The other men’s quarter-final will be between unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul.