MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Victoria Azarenka said she did not get her post-quarantine preparations right for the Australian Open after the former champion was knocked out in the first round of the Grand Slam by main draw debutant Jessica Pegula on Tuesday.
The Belarusian 12th seed, beaten 7-5 6-4, was one 72 players unable to leave their rooms to train for 14 days ahead of the tournament after passengers on their flights to Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19.
Azarenka, who won both her Grand Slam titles at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, said the isolation had taken a toll.
“Was that the best preparation for me? No,” she told a news conference. “The biggest impact for me personally has been not being able to have fresh air. That really took a toll.”
The 31-year-old said she had been unable to get her game in shape less than a week after being freed from lockdown.
“I don’t know how to prepare after two weeks in quarantine … I don’t have a blueprint how to prepare,” she added.
“It’s all about trying to figure it out and I didn’t figure it out. Not this time.”
Azarenka started the match on the front foot and was in complete control after racing to a 5-2 lead in the first set.
However, things quickly fell apart as American Pegula, the world number 61, took the next five games to seal the set.
Azarenka’s troubles continued in the second set and she took a medical timeout while trailing 4-2 after appearing to have trouble breathing.
The Belarusian did not reveal the reason for the medical timeout, making a plea for privacy in her post-match interview.
“I don’t really know why we’re getting asked about medical conditions,” she said. “All this is going out on the internet after for people to talk about, to judge about.
“I truly don’t ever understand why, when somebody is sick, injured or whatever, they have to give their medical reason out in the world. I think that should be changed, unless players do want to talk about it.”
After the timeout, Azarenka returned to the court to hold serve and followed that up with a break to draw level at 4-4, but Pegula broke straight back before serving out the match, sealing victory with an ace.
“I’m just disappointed, not being able to perform at my best,” Azarenka added. “Leaving Australian Open so soon is also disappointing, but it is what it is.”
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)