Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka has always made it a point to express her admiration for her peers. After advancing to the BNP Paribas Open final for the third time in her career, the two-time Indian Wells winner lavished praise on Ons Jabeur, saying she is a "huge fan" of the Tunisian trailblazer.
Azarenka bounced back from a set and a break down to knock out 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals at Indian Wells. In her quest to become the first-ever three-time women's singles champion at the BNP Paribas Open, Azarenka will face World No. 27 Paula Badosa, who upset Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-3 in the other semifinal.
Before her opponent was decided, Azarenka was asked in her post-match press conference about who she would like to face in the summit clash. The Belarusian showered praise on Jabeur, who's set to become the first-ever Arab player to break into the top 10 of the world rankings.
Azarenka described the Tunisian as her "dream" opponent and said she was eagerly waiting to see what Jabeur goes on to achieve in the future.
"If it's going to be Ons, she's my dream player to play in the final," said Azarenka. "I'm such a huge fan of her. I think she's amazing. The history that she's making in the part of the world where sports are not necessarily that accessible, I just can't wait to see how far she can go further. It will be my honor to play her in the final."
"Obviously she's an incredible player," she added. "The improvement she has done throughout I wouldn't necessarily only talk this year, but the last couple years, to really step up her game, improve her fitness level. I'm a huge fan. I'm just fan-girling here completely."
Azarenka has never played or practiced with Badosa before, so she is wary of the challenge that the Spaniard could pose.
"I've never played against Paula," the former World No. 1 said. "I've never really practiced against her. That would be something, a new challenge for me to even understand her ball, her pace. Will be definitely a bit of adaptation there."
"It was really damaging" - Victoria Azarenka on quarantine experience
Azarenka has been playing some of her best tennis this fortnight, bringing back memories of her Grand Slam-winning days. The 32-year-old has dropped just a solitary set in five matches so far in the California desert and is eyeing her first title since the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati last year.
The Belarusian was asked if the two-week quarantine at Indian Wells due to the pandemic worked to her advantage in any way. Azarenka made it very clear that the quarantine experience hasn't been one of the best, even going to the extent of calling it "damaging."
"The quarantine experience definitely is not helping in no way," she said. "There is no possible way quarantine in any way has helped me. It only was really damaging. There's no other way to put it. It was damaging mentally, the end of it. It was damaging physically the most for me. I've never stopped for two weeks not doing anything. In no way that was helpful."
Azarenka admitted that she felt "discouraged" by the quarantine and it took a lot of patience from her to get accustomed to all the challenges.
"I will say that everything after that, how I approached, was a learning experience," she said. "It was, Okay, am I going to dwell on that or am I going to try to figure out? It took time, a lot of patience. I felt at some point I was really discouraged.
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"I'm type of person who will never give up no matter the situation is," she added. "I always knew I'm going to keep fighting. But sometimes it doesn't feel good. You're not motivated to keep searching, but it's up to you. Either you're going to -- that moment is going to define you or you're going to take that into your own hands. From that standpoint I think I've been pretty consistent climbing myself out of challenging situations and moving forward."