2-time Australian Open champ Azarenka beats Pegula in semis

Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka displayed the same confident brand of hard-hitting baseline tennis that carried her to two Australian Open titles and the No. 1 ranking a decade ago, beating Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 on Tuesday night to return to the semifinals at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka won the 2012 and 2013 championships in Australia, but she had not been back to the final four there since then.

Now 33 and a mother — she walked out into Rod Laver Arena wearing a jersey from her 7-year-old son’s favorite soccer team, Paris Saint-Germain — Azarenka delivered big shot after big shot, raced to a 3-0 lead in 12 minutes, and never really let the No. 3-seeded Pegula, a good friend, get into the match.

Even when Pegula did grab a game, she needed to work so hard for it, erasing six break points before finally holding serve to get on the board. It was a far cry from the sort of success Pegula had earlier in the tournament: She entered Tuesday having dropped zero sets and 18 games across four previous matches.

Azarenka’s semifinal opponent will be No. 22 seed Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, who defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday afternoon.

A three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, most recently in 2020, Azarenka has always played most effectively on hard courts, and that showed again on this evening. She repeatedly got the better of lengthy exchanges of forehands and backhands; Pegula made eight of the match’s first 10 unforced errors.

After some misses, Pegula would sigh, roll her eyes, slump her shoulders. She often looked into the stands at her coach, Davis Witt, to say something, including one exclamation about the ball speed of “It’s so … slow!”

Pegula, a 28-year-old from New York, was playing in the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the third year in a row but fell to 0-5 for her career at that stage in Grand Slam tournaments.

Her exit leaves No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka as the lone top-20 woman still in the bracket. On Wednesday, Sabalenka will play unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals, while No. 30 Karolina Pliskova faces unseeded Magda Linette.

___

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports