Jessica Pegula exits Australian Open as Victoria Azarenka advances to semis
Victoria Azarenka produced a brilliant display of tennis to dispatch world No. 3 Jessica Pegula and reach 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 circuit over the past two seasons and still the favorite, 6-4 6 -1 in just one hour and 37 minutes.
It is Azarenka’s best performance in Melbourne since winning the second of her two Australian Open crowns in 2013, as she advances to a second Grand Slam semi-final. 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 the opportunities.
“I’m very proud that I executed my game plan very well and it’s so amazing 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 feeling anxious and hesitant, so I tried to push myself in the offseason.
“When you achieve great success sometimes you get conservative to try new things, so this season I was like, ‘I’m going to try new things, put my head down and work hard. “”
For Pegula, who is still waiting to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final, there will be a lot to think about after her defeat, especially given the dramatic drop in her standards in the second set.
“She started off very slow,” Barbara Schett, former professional and current tennis expert for Eurosport, told CNN.
“At the start of the match it was Azarenka who was dominating so Pegula was the one who reacted the most, but that’s not her style of play.
“She likes to be the one 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 again she freaked out, she didn’t like the conditions, she didn’t kept telling his coach, ‘I don’t know what to do.
“‘The balls are so slow, I feel like I can’t hit with much pace.’ So she was more focused on herself and in the second set as well you could see in her body language that she wasn’t feeling good and I thought, last year she was playing Ash Barty in the quarterfinals and she only won two Games.
“Maybe that was also in the back of her head, that she really, really wanted to do well this year and she just got overwhelmed or the pressure started to mount.”
Azarenka, of course, knows what it takes to win a grand slam, having already won twice in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013. Pegula, on the other hand, has never reached the semi-finals of a slam and seemed nervous and impressed with the occasion.
Many expected world No. 3 Pegula to dominate with her powerful strike, but she barely managed to gain a foothold early in the game as Azarenka took a 3-0 lead in the first set thanks to powerful and precise strikes. groundstrokes.
Pegula eventually arrived on the scoreboard with a fierce, hard-hitting serve grab, saving five break points in a game that lasted over 10 minutes.
However, she soon began to put on a frustrated figure on the pitch, seemingly trying to play into herself in an effort to keep her shots inside the pitch. At one point, she looked towards her box and mumbled under her breath, shrugging in confusion as she tried to come up with a response to Azarenka’s early outburst.
With Azarenka serving at 4-2, Pegula had a brilliant chance to come back, but the Belarusian held on to avoid two break points with some surefire shots to maintain their narrow lead in the first set.
However, with Azarenka serving for the first set at 5-3, a combination of nerfs and much improved strikes from Pegula finally broke the 33-year-old for the first time in the game to keep the first set alive.
But any hope Pegula had of turning things around was quickly banished by Azarenka, who immediately stepped back to take the opening set.
Aside from the small serve, it was a sublime opening set of tennis from Azarenka and reminiscent of the form that helped her win her first Grand Slam Down Under over a decade ago.
Things went from bad to worse for Pergula in the second set as Azarenka held and then broke serve to open a 2-0 lead.
Pegula looks puzzled after another groundstroke went on for a long time and this time started talking and gesturing towards his box in heightened frustration, kicking a ball down the field angrily.
Perhaps the explosion was the stress relief Pegula needed as she quickly began to land her punches with more power and precision, knocking Azarenka back at the first demand.
However, in a game that continued to come and go, Azarenka pulled back immediately again and then held serve to open a 4-1 lead and put a foot in the semis.
Azarenka has made a name for herself as one of the best returners in the women’s game and has so far canceled out Pegula’s serve, a weapon that has given the American so much joy in recent seasons.
Pegula now looked beaten as Azarenka began to wear her down from the baseline; if Pegula had hoped that her opponent’s level would drop at some point, she may have realized at that moment that it wouldn’t happen.
She went for a few desperate shots in an attempt to mix things up, but a particularly poor drop shot was rebounded and sent with aplomb by Azarenka.
Azarenka then beat Pegula for the fourth game in a row and with it the last bit of his resolve to take a 5-1 lead and then quickly served the game.
‘Vika’ joked in her post-match interview that she was looking forward to getting home to her son – who Azarenka admitted loves football more than tennis – and her new dog.
If Azarenka keeps playing like she did on Tuesday, they’ll probably have to wait until next week for mom to come home.