Victoria Azarenka plays lights out tennis to beat Jessica Pegula – ‘I knew from the first point I had to bring it’

A happy Victoria Azarenka

Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka ended a 10-year wait to return to the Australian Open semi-finals with a straight-sets victory over Jessica Pegula.

Azarenka lifted her only two Grand Slam singles titles at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013 and had never been beyond the last eight since.

But the 33-year-old produced a fine display to defeat third seed Pegula, who was the highest-ranked player left, 6-4 6-1 and will take on Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the last four.

“It hurts to beat her because I always want to do well,” she said during her on-court interview. But at the same time I knew I had to play my best tennis.

“I knew from the first point I had to bring it. We had so many rallies and I just wanted to stay there, take opportunities because she was going to take everything if I didn’t.

“I’m very proud I executed my game plan very well. It’s amazing to be in the semi-finals of another Grand Slam.”

Azarenka added: “My tennis wasn’t bad last year but I was not really mentally there. I played with a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. I worked a lot on my mindset. Challenging myself on things I wouldn’t really do before.”

Pegula had reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set but was again unable to get beyond that stage, falling to her fifth consecutive defeat, including three in a row in Melbourne.

The American was always trying to play catch-up after 24th seed Azarenka won the first three games and, although Pegula broke with her opponent serving for the opening set, she could not hold her own delivery.

The second set went from bad to worse for Pegula as Azarenka clinched victory after an hour and 36 minutes.

It is the Belarusian’s first Grand Slam semi-final since she finished runner-up to Naomi Osaka in the 2020 US Open final while she is looking for her first singles title since October 2021.

Aryna Sabalenka is now the highest-ranked player left in the draw and the fifth seed will face Donna Vekic in the quarter-final on Wednesday with the winner facing either Karolina Pliskova or Magda Linette for a place in Saturday’s showpiece match on Rod Laver Arena.

READ MORE: Elena Rybakina draws on her Wimbledon title experience: ‘I can do it again’