If Victoria Azarenka hadn’t rediscovered her sublime best on the road to the Australian Open quarter-finals, perhaps she did en route to the final four.
In a wondrous display against No.3 seed Jessica Pegula on Tuesday night, the 33-year-old mum from Belarus advanced to the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time since 2013 — when she won the second of consecutive Melbourne majors.
The 24th seed broke Pegula’s serve in the second game of the match and rarely surrendered control over the remainder of the Rod Laver Arena fixture, charging to a 6-4, 6-1 victory in an hour and 37 minutes.
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When Azarenka takes to the court against No.22 seed Elena Rybakina on Thursday morning, she’ll feature in her first grand slam semi-final since the 2020 US Open.
« Mum’s the word! » Sam Smith said on the Nine broadcast as Pegula hit the ball long to seal the result.
« Azarenka back in the last four Down Under and ripping up the form book at this women’s draw. »
Smith repeatedly marvelled at Azarenka’s career resurgence throughout her match against Pegula.
« I feel like we’ve been transported back in a time machine by Victoria Azarenka, » Smith said during the first set.
« This could be 10 years ago, couldn’t it? Or is that my imagination? »
Azarenka smacked an unreturnable two-handed backhand later in the first set to prompt more praise from Smith, the former world No.1 from England declaring those in the stands had been « spellbound ».
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Azarenka toyed with Pegula while leading 3-1 in the second set, lobbing the ball from behind the baseline and punishing a drop shot shortly after, thumping a two-handed backhand to win a 19-shot rally.
« This is vintage Azarenka, » said Nine commentator Jelena Dokic.
« This is her at her best. »
How Azarenka conquered ‘fear’, ‘anxiety’
Azarenka struggled in her 2022 campaign, failing to progress beyond the fourth round of a grand slam.
In an on-court interview with Nine’s Casey Dellacqua, she detailed her efforts in conquering mental limitations.
« I felt like … last year, my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t really mentally there to go out there. I played with a lot of fear, with a lot of anxiety, and it really was difficult to be brave and to make the right choices in important moments when you feel anxious, you feel hesitant, » Azarenka said.
« And I worked a lot on my mindset, challenging myself on things that I wouldn’t really do before, and tried to push myself forward.
Match Highlights: Jessica Pegula v Victoria Azarenka
« When you achieve great success, sometimes you become conservative … you’re a bit more hesitant to try new things.
« And this off-season I was like, ‘You know what? I just (need to) be open-minded, try new things, put my head down and work hard’. »
Azarenka dispatched 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, No.10 seed Madison Keys, China’s Lin Zhu and Pegula on her path to the semi-finals.
No.5 seed Aryna Sabalenka is the only remaining top-10 seed in the women’s singles draw following the exit of Pegula.
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