Azarenka's panic attack: Champ or cheat?
Top-seeded player Victoria Azarenka has been labelled a "cheat" and "choker" accused of taking advantage of "medical time-out" to treat what commentators suspect was a panic attack rather than injury during the Australian Open semi-final.
The 23-year-old Belarusian left the court for almost ten minutes in the match against American rising star Sloane Stephens after losing her breath at a weak moment which she later pinned on a rib injury and back problems.
Azarenka left the court after blowing five match points and began exhibiting symptoms in line with a panic attack, returning to bounce back from behind at 5-3, winning the final set 6-1, 6-4.
When asked on court about her supposed injury, Azarenka replied "I almost did the choke of the year right now. At 5-3, after so many chances, I couldn't close it out," and said she was "a little bit overwhelmed," failing to mention any medical issues.
"It got to the point that it was pretty much impossible for me to breathe and to play," she said.
"The timing, yeah, it was my bad. The game before that when I lost my service game, it kept getting worse. I thought I would have to play through and keep calm. But it just got worse."
In later interviews, she claimed to have misinterpreted the query over her condition, and insisted she left the court due to back problems.
Her win got a subdued reaction, the crowd clearly annoyed by her timely mid-match exit leaving commentators to questioning the validity of medical time outs, and her win.
Social media saw the player labelled a "cheat" and a "coward", and high profile tennis commentators accused her of acting outside the rules of the game.
"You can't just leave the court for 10 minutes because you're having a panic attack," said American commentator Pam Shriver.
"She basically panicked, she was choking, so basically she was just buying some time to clear her head," said Andre Agassi's former coach Brad Gilbert.
"It looked like a bit of gamesmanship to me."
Australian tennis great Pat Cash raised the issue of players taking advantage of medical time outs, indicating that such an incident had been a long time coming.
"The whole medical time out is a farce in my opinion it's been that way for several years," he told The Today Show.
"Players can take time out as part of tactics, I'm not saying Victoria's is that case, but I think in general that has highlighted the big problem with medical time outs in the sport and it needs to be looked at seriously and this incident has just highlighted that."