Former tennis world No.1 Victoria Azarenka has stunned her opponent, the chair umpire, fans and commentators after abruptly retiring from the Miami Open without offering an explanation at the net.
The only former winner left in the women’s draw, Azarenka called it quits against 16-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova following an unforced error to go down 2-6 0-3.
Watch the unexpected walk-out in the video above
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The Belarusian – competing under a neutral flag – later admitted she should not have stepped on court amid an “extremely stressful” time in her personal life.
The umpire thought Azarenka had called for the physio, while Czech Republic’s Fruhvirtova said she was surprised when Azarenka stepped up for a handshake at what looked to be a routine medical timeout.
“I saw it wasn’t her best tennis but of course I didn’t want it to end this way,” Fruhvirtova said in her on-court interview.
“Because Vika is one of the players I grew up watching and she is definitely the one I look up to.
“I just wish her that she feels better as soon as possible.”
Former WTA player Daniela Hantuchova and commentator Candy Reid-Harrop both said Azarenka disrespected her opponent and the fans.
“The most disrespectful thing about this is how she walked off the court without really giving a reason,” Hantuchova said.
Reid-Harrop said: “That is absolutely disrespectful. That is terrible behaviour from such a mature player. You can understand that she is not happy at all with the way she is playing.
“(But) that is absolutely astonishing. Really bad. The fans must be pretty disgusted by that behaviour,” she added.
“No matter how you’re feeling out there, if things are going wrong, every player has been through those horrible moments where you just feel all alone and nothing is working, as a seasoned pro you cannot act like that.
“You’ve got to show your opponent and the crowd and the referee and everybody watching at home a little bit more respect than that.”
Tennis star explains walk-out
Azarenka accepted the blame in a statement issued in the hours after her unusual exit, saying convincing herself to play was a mistake.
The two-time Australian Open champion said her second-round match against Russian opponent Ekaterina Alexandrova had proved testing.
“I shouldn’t have gone on the court today. The last few weeks have been extremely stressful in my personal life,” she said.
“Last match took so much out of me, but I wanted to play in front of a great audience as they helped me pull through my first match. I wanted to go out there and try but it was a mistake.
“I hope to take a break and be able to come back.”
It is unclear if Azarenka’s off-court concerns are linked directly to the war in Ukraine, which has led to calls for Belarusian and Russian players to be banned from the tours.
“I’m sorry to the fans for what happened as you were great to cheer for me. It was the only reason I decided to step on the court,” Azarenka added.
“I always look forward to the challenge and pressure of competition but today it was too much. I have to and will learn from this.
“I would like to congratulate my opponent and wish her best of luck in this tournament and beginning of her professional career.”
Fruhvirtova, who received a wildcard into the Miami tournament, will face title contender Paula Badosa in the fourth round.
She is the first player under 17 to venture so far into the event since Maria Sharapova and Tatiana Golovin both did so as 16-year-olds in 2004.