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Australian Open: Resurgent Azarenka beats Pegula and moves into semi-finals

Victoria Azarenka pulled the upset against third seed Jessica Pegula (6-4, 6-1) on Tuesday. She’ll now face Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals.

Victoria Azarenka, Australian Open 2023 (AI / Reuters / Panoramic) Victoria Azarenka, Australian Open 2023 (AI / Reuters / Panoramic)
Australian Open •Quarter-final • completed
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Victoria Azarenka (n°24) hasn’t forgotten how to rule the Australian Open. The former World No.1 was the champion in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013 and is until today the last woman to have successfully defended a title on the Rod Laver Arena. On Tuesday, “Vika” reminded everybody why she was still, at 33 years old, a menace on that Tour. It’s another comeback for Azarenka, whose incredible run to the US Open final in 2020 had already marked one. She will now face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals.

It’s actually quite easy: when she’s fit and playing her best tennis, she’s still one of the greatest players out there. Under the roof of the Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday, Jessica Pegula was a living tale of this where she was basically blasted off the court (6-4, 6-1) by Azarenka. Despite being the n°3 seed and having played some great tennis out there since the start of the tournament. The American was the favourite before that match because of her form since last year, because of how steady and powerful she is, and also because Azarenka had struggled immensely in the previous round. But on Tuesday, Azarenka was the clutch one, especially in the first set, winning all those disputed games and so getting more and more into Pegula’s brain.

But champions, when they can feel the finish line of a Grand Slam, they often take it to another level. And that’s exactly what Azarenka did: she put the PlayStation mode on and just dismantled Pegula’s confidence. A sign that never lies with “Vika”: she served great! A match where she only got broken once is a great match. Actually, the only break that Pegula found a way to make could have been a turning point: Azarenka was up 5)3 40-15 but couldn’t close it out, maybe was getting a bit tight for the first time of this match. Had Pegula been able to get back to 5-5, who knows if the momentum could have shifted. But Pegula’s service games today were going to keep the same trend: the great collapse.

Azarenka is without a doubt one of the greatest players on the return and if she’s already at your throat after the second shot, it is not going to end well at all. It’s what happened in that match: she was all over Pegula after the first couple of shots and never let the pressure go. When you add the incredible pace Azarenka can play at, and the angles she can find when on a roll… Pegula doesn’t play fast enough to beat Azarenka, doesn’t defend well enough and on Tuesday she couldn’t put the needed pressure either to start to make “Vika” think. She let her stay on auto-pilot and so she lost.

Azarenka also has so much more experience than Pegula at this level: it’s her 59th Grand Slam, she has won two Majors, she’s been World No.1, she played against the greatest players of the game for the greatest titles, she has 21 WTA titles to Pegula’s two. Azarenka knows the way to the top, Pegula is still hoping to get there: under pressure, it makes a massive difference. Also, Pegula’s game seems to suit Azarenka’s pretty well as the latter, despite her up and down past few years, now leads 3-2 in their battles.

It’s the first time since 2013 that Victoria Azarenka reaches the Australian Open semi-finals. And it has to mean so much for a player who, because of personal and physical issues, left the path supposed to lead her to tennis greatness. But Azarenka, with two Grand Slam titles to her name and that insane double in Indian Wells and Miami in 2012, keeps coming back from her lows to some highs to remind everybody that she still is an out-of-this-world skilled player. It’s never been a tennis question with her, always a “Are her mind and her body at peace?” one. For now, in Melbourne, she’s back in the zone.

Melbourne (Grand Slam), other last eight results (Melbourne Park, hard, USD 24.297.942, most recent results first):

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