To win a Grand Slam singles title requires extraordinary skill, resilience -- and good fortune. For seven consecutive matches, everything needs to go right. It can dramatically change the quality of a player’s life.
Doing it twice is that much more impressive. Victoria Azarenka is part of a select list of players who have run through a major championship without a loss more than once.
In 2013, she won her second consecutive Australian Open title, and now, a decade later, she could add a third. Azarenka, the No.24 seed, faces No.3 Jessica Pegula in a Tuesday quarterfinal. The other quarter from the top half of the draw features No.17 Jelena Ostapenko versus No.22 Elena Rybakina.
Australian Open: Scores | Draw | Order of play
Don’t let those seeds fool you. Three of these four quarterfinalists are Grand Slam champions. Ostapenko and Rybakina have one major apiece and a realistic chance of reaching that multi-Slam club. Pegula, into her third straight quarter in Melbourne Park, is the highest seed, but the only one without a major.
“It doesn’t really feel like I’m the highest left, even though I guess that’s a cool stat,” Pegula told reporters Sunday. “I look at the draw and there’s still girls today [Ostapenko] she won French Open, you have Rybakina who won Wimbledon last year, you have Vika who does really well here. It feels like there’s still a long ways to go, to be honest.”
Let’s dive in for a closer look:
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No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko vs. No. 22 Elena Rybakina (not before 12:30 p.m.)
Both players began the season dropping two of three matches in the Adelaide events -- and then went 4-for-4 in Melbourne, upsetting favored opponents in the fourth round. Rybakina knocked off World No.1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4, while Ostapenko was a 7-5, 6-3 winner over No.7 Coco Gauff.
When Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland Garros winner at the age of 19, is on, even some of the world’s best players look helpless.
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“She hit a lot of winners, which not a lot of people can do on me,” Gauff said. “There were balls I was hitting deep, and she was hitting them on the line and hitting them back deep, over and over again.”
This one will see a ton of heavy hitting. Ostapenko stroked 30 winners, but Rybakina has a bigger, better serve. She leads all women here with 24 aces and first-serve winning percentage – 82 pct. -- 99 of 121.
They’ve played twice before, and Ostapenko prevailed both times, in the 2019 Linz quarters and the 2021 Eastbourne semifinals.
What will Rybakina do to change that?
Elena 'calm' Rybakina 😅#AusOpenpic.twitter.com/mTTdo0GOtx— wta (@WTA) January 22, 2023
“This I’m going to keep secret,” she told reporters, laughing. “I’m going to tell you maybe after the match. But she hits really hard, and she plays aggressive like me. So for sure I need to be really focused on my serve because today on one side I was struggling a bit. It’s not easy if my weapon is not going.”
Rybakina, 23, is less than a year removed from winning the Wimbledon title, but Ostapenko is more than five years distant from her major triumph. This is her first Grand Slam quarter since 2018 Wimbledon.
“My life changed a lot, so I needed a few years to really get used to what happened because I was really young,” Ostapenko said. “Everybody expected you almost to win every single tournament, which is crazy, because you are still a human and you cannot feel great every day. Yeah, I needed some time to get used to it.
Ostapenko taps into her champion's mettle in Australia
“I always knew and believed in my game. If I play well, I can beat almost anyone.”
No.3 Jessica Pegula vs. No.24 Victoria Azarenka (7 p.m.)
Pegula took out Barbora Krejcikova, another major champion, with a typically consistent performance, 7-5, 6-2. While she doesn’t possess an overpowering weapon, she is incredibly consistent. This the fifth major quarter of her career -- among the past nine staged. But … she’s never been further.
Though the head-to-head is 2-all, Pegula won the last one -- in the first round of the 2021 Australian Open, 7-5, 6-4.
“She’s amazing player,” Azarenka said after defeating Zhu Lin 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. “Her stability and consistency throughout. She got me here, so I definitely want revenge.
“She’s a great friend of mine. I absolutely adore her. We have really tough battles every single time. We practice with each other. There’s going to be no surprises absolutely. Also, like, it’s going to be tough, it's going to be a lot of rallies, the ball is going to be low.”
#AusOpen quarterfinalist three years in a row 😎@JLPegula locks in her spot with a win over Krejcikova, 7-5, 6-2! pic.twitter.com/6rqPMzyF5D— wta (@WTA) January 22, 2023
Azarenka is 33 years old and beginning to pile up the wins at Melbourne Park. She now has 46 main-draw wins at the Australian Open, equaling Martina Navratilova and one behind Steffi Graf. The overall major total is 152, one behind Martina Hingis, who is 13th on the Open Era list.
Pegula knows what she’s up against.
“Just super aggressive baseliner,” Pegula said. “She loves to play here. I’ve played her in a couple tough matches. Gone both ways. I feel like when she’s on and she’s playing her game, she can just be relentless with her style.”
Pegula won four of five matches in the season-opening United Cup, helping the United States to the team title. She’s now 8-for-9 on the year and has yet to drop a set in Melbourne.
“I definitely want to obviously reach a semi,” Pegula said. “It will be my first semi. I mean, I have a great shot here. I’ve been playing the best I have than in any of my other Grand Slam quarterfinals.”