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Victoria Azarenka talks mental health for athletes with Brandon Marshall on Think About It
She also opened up about her abrupt retirement in the third round of Miami, when she walked off the court in tears in a moment that quickly went viral.
Published Sep 30, 2022
Think About It: Season 2 Teaser
On the fifth episode of Think About It, Victoria Azarenka interviews Brandon Marshall, a former American football wide receiver and television personality, in a powerful conversation centered around mental health in the high-stakes pro sports environment.
“The sport has defined us as athletes,” said Marshall, who spent 13 seasons playing in the NFL. “And obviously, there’s been so many along the journey who have broken through and said, No, we want more. We are more.
“We have to always challenge ourselves. It’s like, No, who am I today? How am I growing? Yes I compete, and I’m also into media, I’m into art, I’m into fashion, I’m a father… I’m a husband... There’s so much more to the ‘athlete’ today.
“We have an amazing opportunity to continue to redefine what an athlete is.”
It was a sentiment that resonated with Azarenka, who has delved into other interests during the latter stage of her career—including podcasting for Tennis Channel and advocating for her fellow players on the WTA Player Council. She opened up about the emotional toll that her single-minded focus took on her, even as she scaled the rankings to become WTA world No. 1 and claim back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012-13.
“Emotional practice, I started doing it when I was 24 years old,” Azarenka recalled. “So from seven to then, it was all about reaching goals in tennis, about getting the result there. And it came at a very heavy price.”
She recalls a moment of realization that came in 2020, when she returned from the Covid pandemic stoppage to win the Cincinnati title and reach the US Open final in back-to-back weeks. At the age of 31, Azarenka was enjoying herself on the court for the first time that she could remember.
“People were like, What are you talking about? What about when you were winning Grand Slams?” Azarenka said. “And yeah, it was nice. I mean, it was great. But people only remember the win, they don’t remember everything else with it.
“I’ve never enjoyed myself, truly, where I can sit down and say, I’m happy to be here.”
Having found joy on the tennis court for the first time, Azarenka was devastated when she no longer felt it by 2022. Later in the episode, she revealed what was going through her mind during her abrupt retirement in the third round of the Miami Open, when she walked off the court in tears trailing 6-2, 3-0 to Linda Fruhvirtova in a moment that quickly went viral.
“I want people to understand that those moments are much more significant in someone’s life than what you see,” Azarenka said, amid tears. “I went on the court, and I’m playing. And all I think about is like, I just want to leave but I can’t. I don’t know if I can do it. And I’m looking at everyone like, Please get me out of here. But nobody is going to do it.
“I just decided in one moment that I have to go. I have to go because I’m either going to have a panic attack on the court, or I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. So I have to leave…
“What drove me to do that is I understood that I had lost that feeling of me being happy on the court. And I had to learn how to find it back, and that meant taking a break.”
Check out the full episode as Marshall and Azarenka open up about mental health, as they reveal how an athlete’s relationship to pain and ability to bounce back from setbacks can affect when, and if, they seek help.
Stream all episodes of Think About It—available on multiple domestic and international Tennis Channel platforms.