Victoria Azarenka produces vintage display to reach semifinals in Melbourne

Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open.

Victoria Azarenka is back into the semifinals of the Australian Open, for the first time since winning the tournament in 2013, after beating world #3 Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1. The two-time Australian Open champion collected her 153rd main draw Grand Slam win, equalling Martina Hingis at 13th place in the open era all-time list.

Azarenka came into the contest as the underdog, with Pegula winning seven of her eight matches in 2023, but the Belarusian did not see it that way, stating that “I didn’t see myself as the underdog today. I know what I’m capable of”. By beating Pegula, Azarenka picks up her first top five win at a Grand Slam since beating Maria Sharapova in the 2012 US Open semifinals.

Victoria Azarenka could not find this sort of form last year, having not made it past the fourth round, and explained that she was not in the right head space in 2022.

“Last year my tennis wasn’t bad, but I mentally wasn’t there. I played with a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. It really was difficult to be brave & to make the right choices… I worked a lot on my mindset, challenging myself, trying to push myself forward.”

It will likely be more frustration for Pegula, who seems to be unable to make it past the quarter-final stage at major tournaments. The top ranked American has been knocked out at the last eight stage in four of her last five Grand Slams, and three consecutive Australian Open’s. This loss may feel like more of a missed opportunity, with all of her quarter-final defeats last year coming to the top ranked player and eventual winner.

The third seed was very complimentary, however, to her opponent and friend Azarenka, “She was just executing it, I feel, pretty well tonight. Hitting the ball deep, taking it early, changing the direction on the ball, doing things that I usually like to do to people. She was doing it well.”

Despite being out of the singles draw Pegula’s Australian Open is not finished yet, as she is still in the doubles tournament with her partner Coco Gauff, with the pair playing in their quarter-final match tomorrow.

For Azarenka, the next stop is the semifinals on Thursday against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. The two have only played each other on one previous occasion, at Indian Wells last year, where Rybakina came out on top. However, whenever Azarenka has made the semifinals in Melbourne before she has won the tournament. It promises to be a thrilling match, with the huge opportunity to play another Grand Slam final almost within reach for both.

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