Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is back in the semifinals after a 10-year gap following a 6-4, 6-1 win against No.3 seed Jessica Pegula in 1 hour and 37 minutes.
Azarenka will next face Elena Rybakina in Thursday's semifinals. It will be Azarenka's first semifinal in Melbourne since her 2013 title run, first Grand Slam semifinal since the 2020 US Open and her ninth overall.
Azarenka has now tallied 47 main-draw wins at the Australian Open, tied for the sixth most in the Open Era along with Stefanie Graf. Azarenka's 153 main-draw wins at all Grand Slams equal Martina Hingis' total as the 13th most in the Open Era.
Pegula falls to 0-5 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, including the last three years in a row at Melbourne.
Here are the key takeaways from Azarenka's victory:
Azarenka executed an aggressive game plan perfectly: Pegula is deceptively powerful with her first strike but also deceptively quick when counterpunching is required. She has a rare knack for choosing the right shot to play in any situation.
"I will say she plays quite simple, which is I would say is a compliment," Azarenka said beforehand. "It's quite easy to be flashy. Not easy, but it's easier to just go overboard. But to have that consistency and simplicity ..."
In response, Azarenka came up with a straightforward strategy herself: get Pegula on the move from side to side without letting up. Azarenka, 33, pummeled groundstrokes from side to side and was sharp in coming forward to finish points off with drive volleys. She actually tallied fewer clean winners, 17 to Pegula's 19, but the American was the one doing all the running: 22 sprints to Azarenka's 12 in the first set.
On the back foot, it was Pegula who seemed out of sorts. Overpressing on her groundstrokes, she racked up 31 unforced errors to Azarenka's 20.
Azarenka's champion quality showed in her scoreboard management: Despite the score line, the flow of the match was far from straightforward for Azarenka, who knocked off a Top 5 player for the first time in a major since defeating Maria Sharapova in the 2012 US Open semifinals. After she leaped out to a quick 3-0 lead, five of the next six games were tight deuce tussles as Pegula kept threatening to make her way back.
Pegula fended off six points to fall behind a 4-0 double break and twice saved double-set point as she cut Azarenka's lead from 5-2 to 5-4. Two of those saves were with unreturned serves and the next two with outright winners.
But with the set back on serve, Azarenka halted the momentum swing with some fine volleying on Pegula's serve, sealing her fifth set point as another forehand from her opponent went long.
After such a fiercely contested opening set, Azarenka went from strength to strength in the second as Pegula ran out of ideas.
Azarenka attributed her success to a shift in her mindset: Azarenka compiled a 24-13 record in 2021, including fourth-round showings at two majors. But she did not reach a final and ended the year ranked exactly where she began, at No.27.
"My tennis wasn't bad, but I wasn't really mentally there," Azarenka said in her on-court interview. "I played with a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. It really was difficult to be brave and to make the right choices on court in important moments when you feel anxious and hesitant."
To this end, Azarenka devoted her offseason to pushing herself mentally.
"I worked a lot on my mindset, challenging myself on things I wouldn't do before. When you achieve great success, sometimes you become conservative and hesitant to try new things. I was like, 'You know what, I'll be open-minded, try new things, keep my head down and work.'"
That determination has paid off. Azarenka, who will face Wimbledon champion Rybakina in the semifinals, is the most experienced player remaining in the field. It's at this stage of a major where that could prove the difference.