World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka didn't get much sympathy for her retirement from the Italian Open. She didn't get any sympathy from the woman she currently leads in the rankings.
Maria Sharapova took blatant digs at her rival over the weekend, insinuating that Azarenka's injury retirements are dubious and never seem to have any long-term repercussions. The comments came after Azarenka won an opening-round match in Rome and then pulled out of the tournament, solely to avoid taking a zero for the mandatory tournament in the WTA rankings.
The world No. 2 criticized Azarenka's decision after defeating Venus Williams in a semifinal. Transcription courtesy SI.com's Beyond the Baseline:
"She's probably been injured more than any other player and yet is able to be No. 1 in the world. Last year she, I think, had more retirements than anyone but was still able to play a full schedule. A few days after retiring from an event she was practicing at the next tournament. It's pretty tough to know what her state is and how she's feeling."
"Personally, if I'm injured, no matter what the fine is, no matter how big or small, the body is the most important to me. If I'm not healthy enough to play, those are the rules. Yes, this is a tournament you have to compete in, yes, you might get zero points. But to be honest, I don't really care about that. My health is the most important thing."
As BTB notes, Sharapova has a point. Azarenka withdrew from the Italian Open last year and followed it up two weeks later with a semifinal appearance at Roland Garros. In the fall, she pulled out of a tournament in Beijing after one match, then went on to make the finals of the WTA championships.
Azarenka deserves blame and criticism for her bush-league treatment of the sport. Yet isn't the WTA at fault too? By making tournaments mandatory, it encourages this sort of behavior. The players shouldn't be put in a position to be forced to make a decision between sportsmanship and their livelihood. Having Madrid and Rome played in back-to-back weeks doesn't help anyone either.
Sharapova defeated Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in Sunday's final in Rome. She moved within striking distance of Azarenka's top ranking and could regain No. 1 at next week's French Open.