Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka beats Jessica Pegula – NBC New York

Victoria Azarenka displayed the same confident brand of hard-hitting baseline tennis that took her to two Australian Open titles and the No. 1 ranking a decade ago when she defeated Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 on Tuesday night to return to the semi-finals Melbourne Park.

Azarenka won the championships in Australia in 2012 and 2013, but has not finished in the last four there since.

Now 33 and a mom – she went to the Rod Laver Arena wearing a jersey of her 7-year-old son’s favorite football team, Paris Saint-Germain – Azarenka, who hails from Belarus, delivered one big shot after another, racing to a 3: 0 lead in 12 minutes, never really letting No. 3 seed Pegula, a good friend, get into the game.

“Leo doesn’t really care that I play here,” said Azarenka, laughing. “He’s more worried about his football and when are we going to go play again. He’s obviously watching some games, but he definitely wants his mom to be home. So a few more days here and I’ll be back.”

Could make the trip with a trophy in tow if she keeps playing like this.

Even when Pegula got hold of a game, she had to work so hard for it, clearing six break points before finally holding serve to get on the board. It was a far cry from the success Pegula had earlier in the tournament: She entered Tuesday after losing zero sets and 18 games in four previous games.

The semi-final opponent of No. 24 Azarenka will be No. 22 Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion who defeated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday afternoon. This game was postponed by about 20 minutes in the first set while the main stadium’s retractable roof was closed due to rain.

Rybakina hit 11 aces to increase her tournament lead to 35.

“I got all the experience at Wimbledon and it’s helping me here in Australia now and I know what to expect,” said Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2018 because it offered her tennis to finance career. “Sure, in this case it’s just easier.”

On the men’s side, Karen Khachanov reached his first semifinal at Melbourne Park – and finished in the last four at a Grand Slam tournament for the second consecutive year following his run at the US Open last September – as 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda stopped play in the third set due to a right wrist injury.

Khachanov will face either No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece or unseeded Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic for a place in the men’s final. Tsitsipas and Lehecka should play their quarterfinals on Tuesday evening.

Korda, whose father Petr was the 1998 Australian champion, suffered from wrist pain after mishitting a forehand service return in the second set. He asked a trainer to investigate and record it. But Korda was eliminated from the match while trailing 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-0.

Soon Khachanov was doing a winner’s interview on the pitch, prompting spectators to applaud his injured opponent while Korda walked towards the locker room with a red kit bag slung over his left shoulder and a dour expression on his face.

β€œI kind of reinvented myself, I would say. I’ve always believed in myself, but there are always ups and downs,” said Khachanov, a 26-year-old Russian seeded in 8th place. “And sometimes when you get that great result, it just shows you what you can do and you start to believe more and more.”

Korda’s wrist first bothered him during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide earlier this month, but he said it seemed fine for the past two weeks up to Tuesday.

“I kind of felt this point that I’ve felt before,” Korda said. β€œOn some forehands I couldn’t even hold the bat. Volley was almost impossible for me. So it was a bit difficult.”

As a three-time runner-up at the US Open, most recently in 2020, Azarenka has always played most effectively on hard courts, which was shown again this evening. She repeatedly won long forehand and backhand changes; Pegula made eight of the game’s first 10 unforced errors.

After a few misses, Pegula sighed, rolled her eyes, and slumped her shoulders. She would often look into the stands for her coach, Davis Witt, to say anything, including exclaiming about ball speed of “It’s so…slow!”

“It hurts to hit her because I always want her to be okay. At the same time, I also know that I have to play my best tennis. … I knew from the first point that I had to bring it,” said Azarenka. “We’ve had so many rallies and I just wanted to try and stay there, take chances because she would take anything if I didn’t try to win it myself.”

Pegula, a 28-year-old New Yorker, played in the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the third straight year but fell 5-0 down for her career at that point in Grand Slam tournaments. Her parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, and Pegula wore a patch on her skirt during games with the No. 3, the jersey number of player Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field during a Jan. 2 game.

Her exit on Tuesday leaves No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka as the only top-20 woman still in the bracket. On Wednesday, Sabalenka meets unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals, while No. 30 Karolina Pliskova meets unseeded Magda Linette.

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