INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- No. 4 Victoria Azarenka admitted she may have come back from injury too early after suffering an awkward and painful 6-0, 7-6 (2) loss to No. 66 Lauren Davis in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday.
Azarenka injured her left foot three days before the Australian Open and played through the pain to make the quarterfinals. Since then, she wore a walking boot for three weeks and resumed practicing only last week. Watching her practice sessions this week, it showed.
To make matters worse, she acknowledged before the tournament that she wasn't pain free yet; by the sound of it, she should not have been playing at all. Asked whether she had received medical assurance that she could not further injure her foot if she played this week, Azarenka shrugged. "I'm too stubborn for that," she said.
Her foot injury, which she described as nerve damage, flared up early in the first set against Davis and she struggled for the remainder of the match. Eyes were trained on her at every change of ends to see if she would finally concede. She considered retiring but chose to continue.
"I want to learn how to go through the tough thing, how to try to do the best in the toughest situation," Azarenka said. "Sometimes it takes time. It's a process to go through. You've got to learn how to win in bad situations and ugly situations and stuff. That's part of our job."
After quickly falling behind 5-0 in the first set, Azarenka summoned coach Sam Sumyk for a pep talk, a rare move considering she hasn't used on-court coaching in years. After she told him her foot "f****** hurts," Sumyk kept his advice simple. "You can walk away, or you can finish it," and he advised her to walk away if she was indeed feeling pain. Instead, she raised her level of play, breaking Davis at 5-6 to force a second-set tiebreaker. But Azarenka remained compromised and lost the tiebreaker. She finished with 11 double faults and 43 unforced errors.
Azarenka was asked afterward whether she would have played this week if Indian Wells were not a WTA Premier mandatory tournament.
"I don't know," she said. "I wanted to play this tournament. I wanted to see how it is, because at some point you've got to test it. You know, thinking now, it might have been too early. But I wouldn't know if I didn't try."
Her plans are up in the air for the Sony Open, another mandatory tournament that follows the BNP Paribas Open.
Friday wasn't the first time that Azarenka attempted to play through obvious pain recently. She played on against Li Na in the season-ending WTA Championships despite audible screams of pain over a back injury. She admitted after the 6-2, 6-1 loss that the discussion about her perceived frailty influenced her decision to keep playing. If she plays, she's criticized for not retiring; if she retires, she's criticized for seeming soft. But after this loss, Azarenka insisted that she wasn't trying to make a point about her toughness.
"Whatever I do is for me," she said. "I'm not trying to prove [anything to] anybody or try to make up ‑‑ I am who I am. I think you guys already learned that. I say what I think, I do what I think, and it will always be like that. I'm not creating a persona. I am who I am."
Davis, meanwhile, beat a top-10 player for the first time. The 20-year-old Cleveland native switched from Evert's Tennis Academy to the USTA training center in Boca Raton, Fla., after last year's U.S. Open. Now sharing a coach, Juan Todero, with Madison Keys, Davis said she made the move in hopes of training alongside tougher competition.
"All the girls were at USTA, and I felt maybe I was a little behind because maybe I was practicing with younger boys rather than girls my level," she said. "Just the competition, we kind of push each other and drive each other. It's been a big factor."
Next up for Davis is fellow American and practice partner Varvara Lepchenko, who defeated No. 34 Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-2.
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