Bill Murray knows exactly what Victoria Azarenka is going through.
Murray, the comic legend, has left a considerable imprint on popular culture in various mediums. One of them is film, and among the movies he is best remembered for is “Groundhog Day,” the comedy in which he lives the same day over and over again.
Victoria Azarenka is immersed in that world… only she isn’t laughing.
Azarenka lost to Sloane Stephens on Monday in Madrid. The match was not a masterclass by any stretch, and Stephens — who played poorly in the second set — was vulnerable early in the third. Azarenka had a great chance to take an early break lead but missed it. If you have seen it once, you have seen it a million times: Not pouncing on a huge chance in a final set can often become the last best chance to win a match.
Sure enough, Stephens took advantage of that reprieve and controlled the third set after that costly miss by Azarenka on break point. Stephens bagged a valuable win under new coach Sven Groeneveld, while Azarenka is left to contemplate a very familiar theme for her in recent years: She can’t get past very many early-round obstacles in important tournaments.
Sloane Stephens defeated Azarenka in the round of 32 at the 2018 U.S. Open. Azarenka lost to Caroline Garcia in the round of 64 in Miami. She defeated Karolina Pliskova in the round of 16 in Stuttgart but then had to retire in the quarterfinals against Anett Kontaveit. She will notch a noticeable victory every now and then, but in the match after that victory, she can’t string together wins and collect quarterfinal and semifinal results on a consistent basis, which is precisely why she isn’t getting better draws at tournaments.
The most conspicuous example of Azarenka’s lack of good draws at tournaments: facing Serena Williams in the round of 64 in Indian Wells this year. That match will remain one of the very best tennis matches of 2019… and it was a second-rounder.
Victoria Azarenka has to find a way to escape these early-round traps and get on a run. One has the feeling that if she can just bust loose in one important tournament and make a very deep run to a semi or final, she can throw off the chains of inconsistency and become what she once was.
Alas, she will have to wait for that to happen.
She would love to proclaim to the world in Paris or at SW19 that she is “back,” but she wasn’t able to make that statement in Madrid, where Groundhog Day and the world of Bill Murray have evidently followed her.