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Tennis: Motown fan Azarenka tunes in at US Open

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Victoria Azarenka stands at a statuesque 6ft (1.83m), weighs in at 145lbs (66kg) and has developed an impressively thick skin to match.

Ever since she left her Belarus home as a 16-year-old to pursue her tennis dreams in the United States, Azarenka's career has witnessed the highs of being number one and winning back-to-back Australian Open crowns.

But there have also been a series of lows, both controversial and bizarre with accusations of gamesmanship leveled against her and a spell on the sidelines thanks to an ill-judged pedicure.

Always a leading junior, Azarenka developed her talents in Arizona where she lived with family friends and turned professional in 2003.

It took six years to capture her first singles title, the Brisbane tournament in 2009 which was the first on a list which has now reached 17.

That roll of honor includes her Grand Slam triumphs in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013 and a mixed doubles gold with Max Mirnyi at the London Olympics.

The 24-year-old's game is based on formidable power off the ground and deceptively comfortable hands at the net, but before she made her breakthrough at a major she had considered walking away from the sport.

A heart-to-heart conversation with her beloved grandmother back home in Minsk revived her spirit for the game and she has hardly looked back.

Her 2012 Australian Open title was part of a 26-match winning streak while Sunday will see her playing in a second successive US Open final.

Her career has also brought her more than $20 million in prize money, a luxury home in Monte Carlo and a romance with pop singer Redfoo.

"He has helped me so much. It's a learning experience to learn how to interact with people, to see their perspective," she said.

"He helped me tremendously with that, and just to open up and be who I am."

Her habit of making her entrance on court hidden in a hoodie and with headphones plugged into rhythm and blues, hip-hop or Motown music may work to soothe pre-match tensions, but there have been times Azarenka wishes she could stay hidden.

Blasted as too emotionally unstable and physically weak to break into the big-hitting league of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in her early years, Azarenka has also been ridiculed for her infamous on-court grunting.

Crowds have often mimicked her banshee wailing and spectators were on her back again at the Australian Open this year, when she took a 10-minute injury timeout against America's Sloane Stephens after wasting five match points.

Stephens' coach, David Nainkin, described it as "cheating within the rules".

She has also endured a tense relationship with Sharapova, famously getting involved in a shoulder bumping clash with the Russian star at the Italian Open last year.

Azarenka has also fallen foul of one the more bizarre sports pullouts in recent years -- walkover due to unhygienic pedicure suffered in Thailand and was forced to concede a semi-final in Brisbane to Williams.

It will be Williams figuring large again on Sunday when she meets the American, against whom she has a 12-3 losing record.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130906/tennis-motown-fan-azarenka-tunes-at-us-open