Jessica Pegula crashes out of Australian Open as Victoria Azarenka cruises into semis



Victoria Azarenka produced a brilliant tennis game to defeat world No. 3 Jessica Pegula and take the Australian Open semi-finals.

The two-time Australian Open champion, now ranked 24th in the world, rolled back the years to beat Pegula, one of the most consistent players on the women’s tour over the past few seasons and remained a favourite, 6-4 6-1 in just one hours and 37 minutes.

It marks Azarenka’s best performance in Melbourne since winning the second of her two Australian Open crowns in 2013, as she progresses to a second grand slam semifinal since 2020.

“It hurts to beat her because I always want her to do well,” Azarenka said in her post-match interview. “But I know I have to play my best tennis because she’s been so consistent. We had so many rallies… I just had to stay there and take chances.

“I am very proud that I executed my game plan very well and it is so great to be in the semi-finals of another grand slam.

“Last year my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t there mentally. I played with a lot of fear and anxiety – it’s hard to make the right decision when you’re anxious and hesitant, so I tried to push myself in the off-season.

“Sometimes when you get great success, you become conservative to try new things, so this season I thought, ‘I’ll try new things, bow my head and work hard.'”

For Pegula, still waiting to reach her first grand slam semifinal, there will be a lot to think about in the aftermath of her defeat, especially considering how her standards dropped so dramatically in the second set.

“She got off to a very slow start,” Barbara Schett, a former pro and current tennis pundit for Eurosport, told CNN.

“At the beginning of the game it was Azarenka who dominated, so Pegula was the one who reacted more, but that’s not her style of play.

“She likes to be in control of the point and today that was not the case at all. I thought it was a good comeback in the first set, when she got to 5-4 she was back on serve, but then she panicked again, she didn’t like the conditions, she kept saying to her coach, ” I don’t know what to do.

“The balls are so slow, I feel like I can’t hit with much speed.” So she was more focused on herself and also in the second set you could tell by her body language that she wasn’t feeling well and I thought last year she played Ash Barty in the quarter finals and she only won two games.

“Maybe that was also in the back of her mind, that she wanted to do really, really well this year and she just got overwhelmed or the pressure started to kick in.”

Of course, Azarenka knows what it takes to win a grand slam, having won twice before in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013. Pegula, on the other hand, has never reached the semi-finals of a slam before and seemed nervous and impressed by the opportunity.

Many expected Pegula, the world No. 3, to dominate with her powerful punching power, but she was barely able to gain a foothold early on as Azarenka took a 3-0 lead in the first set thanks to a thumping , accurate ground stripes.

Pegula finally got on the scoreboard with a gritty, hard-fought serve, saving five break points in a game that lasted more than 10 minutes.

However, she soon began to cut a frustrated figure on the field, seemingly trying to play to herself in an attempt to simply keep her shots within the field. At one point, she looked at her box and muttered under her breath as she shrugged in confusion as she tried to find an answer to Azarenka’s early genius.

With Azarenka serving from a 4-2 lead, Pegula had a great chance to break back, but the Belarusian held on to stave off two break points with some flawless shots to maintain her small lead in the first set.

However, with Azarenka serving for the first set at 5-3, a combination of nerves and much improved hitting from Pegula eventually broke the 33-year-old into the game for the first time to keep the opening set alive.

Azarenka brilliantly nullified Pegula's serve throughout the match.

But any hope Pegula had of turning the set around was quickly banished by Azarenka, who immediately broke back to take the first set.

Aside from the minor serving blip, it was a sublime opening set tennis from Azarenka, reminiscent of the form with which she won her first grand slam Down Under more than a decade ago.

Things went from bad to worse for Pergula in the second set as Azarenka held on and then broke serve to open a 2-0 lead.

Pegula looked stunned after yet another groundstroke that went long and this time she meowed and gestured toward her box with increasing frustration as she furiously slammed a ball into the court.

Perhaps the outburst was the stress relief Pegula needed, as she soon began hitting her shots with more power and accuracy, causing Azarenka to snap back the first time she asked.

However, in a game that continued to ebb and flow, Azarenka once again broke straight back and then held on to open a commanding 4-1 lead and put a foot into the semi-finals.

Azarenka has made a name for herself as one of the better returners in the women’s game and has so far been negating Pegula’s serve, a weapon that has brought so much joy to the American in recent seasons.

'Vika' is in her second semifinal since 2020.

Pegula now looked defeated as Azarenka began to wear her down from the baseline; if Pegula had hoped that her opponent’s level would ever drop, perhaps in this moment she realized it wouldn’t.

She tried some desperate shots in an attempt to mix things up, but a particularly bad drop shot was bounced back by Azarenka with aplomb.

Azarenka then broke Pegula for the fourth straight game and with it the last bit of her determination to take a 5-1 lead and then promptly served out the game.

‘Vika’ joked in her post-match interview that she was eager to return home to her son – who Azarenka admitted loves football more than tennis – and her new dog.

If Azarenka continues to play like she did on Tuesday, they’ll probably have to wait until next week for Mom to come home.

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