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Australian Open: Vintage Victoria packs off Pegula

Azarenka gains revenge by dismantling in-form American third seed 6-4, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade
Victoria Azarenka hits a backhand during her quarter final  match against Jessica Pegula in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Victoria Azarenka hits a backhand during her quarter final match against Jessica Pegula in Melbourne on Tuesday.
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Reuters   |   Melbourne   |   Published 25.01.23, 06:18 AM

Victoria Azarenka showed glimpses of the form that took her to the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open titles with a brilliant show to reach the semi-finals on Tuesday, before Stefanos Tsitsipas continued his march towards a maiden Grand Slam title.

Twice grand slam winner Azarenka meets Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the last four, but it was the end of the road for Sebastian Korda, whose dreams of emulating his famous father ended in pain and disappointment earlier in the day.

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Having been beaten in the opening round by Jessica Pegula two years ago, Azarenka gained revenge by dismantling the in-form American third seed 6-4, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade.

“We had so many rallies and I wanted to try to stay there, take opportunities because she was going to take everything if I don’t try to win myself and I’m very proud that I executed my game plan really well,” said Azarenka.

The 33-year-old from Belarus was aggression personified in the match but conceded that it was “nerve-racking” to play in front of Rod Laver, the Australian great after whom the main showcourt is named.

“I feel like you want to show your best tennis in front of the best and I hope I did that and you guys enjoyed watching me because I really tried my best,” she added. 

Tsitsipas in semis

Former French Open runner-up Tsitsipas also showed some of his best form, sealing a 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-4 win over Jiri Lehecka, and said he was happy to have all the answers to the questions the unheralded Czech posed.

The third seed dominated the opening set after breaking a nervy Lehecka early on but was pushed hard after that against the 21-year-old who has enjoyed a breakout tournament.

Lehecka, who had never won a grand slam match before arriving in Melbourne, used his powerful baseline game to stay with Tsitsipas in the second set but the Greek raised his game to ease through the tiebreak.

Tsitsipas was forced to save three successive break points at 3-3 in the third set as Lehecka threatened to extend the Rod Laver Arena clash.

The 24-year-old then pounced with Lehecka serving at 4-5, reaching match point with a searing backhand pass and wrapping up victory as his opponent netted a backhand.

Tsitsipas will face Russian Karen Khachanov in the semi-final when he will again enjoy strong support from the many Greek-origin fans in Melbourne.

“I can say it was a fair dinkum type of performance,” Tsitsipas said on court. “It felt different this time from the other time we played but I found a solution. “I had to deal with groundstrokes that were coming at me heavy and deep.”

Lehecka had enjoyed impressive wins against seeded players Borna Coric, Cameron Nor rie and Felix Auger-Aliassime during his run.

Heartbreak for Korda

Korda tried in vain to find an answer and continue playing against Khachanov but threw in the towel in their quarter-final match while trailing 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-0 due to a wrist issue.

The retirement followed two medical timeouts and dashed the American’s hopes of emulating his father Petr’s 1998 Melbourne Park triumph.

Khachanov said it felt great to be back in a grand slam semi-final after reinventing himself.

“Obviously not the way you want to finish a match,” said the 18th seed.



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