MELBOURNE, Australia -- Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is focused only on the present. It's a focus that has landed her in her first semifinal in Melbourne for the first time in a decade. 

On Tuesday night, Azarenka, now 33, beat No.3 Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1. The victory sets up a showdown between the two remaining major champions, as Azarenka faces reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Thursday. 

That match will be 10 years on from her last semifinal run on Rod Laver Arena, an emotionally fraught and controversial semifinal win against Sloane Stephens in 2013. In that match, Azarenka led Stephens 6-1, 5-3 before failing to convert five match points. Azarenka was broken at 5-4 and took a 10-minute off-court medical timeout to address a rib injury she had carried into the match that was restricting her breathing. 

Australian Open: Azarenka survives Zhu in late-night three-setter

2023 Australian Open

Azarenka went on to win 6-1, 6-4, but the incident provoked the adverse crowd. Headlines across the globe accused the then-No.1 of gamesmanship. She pulled herself together in the next days to defeat Li Na to win her second straight Australian Open title. 

On Tuesday, Azarenka addressed that moment. 

"It was one of the worst things that I've ever gone through in my professional career, the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10:30 p.m. at night because people didn't want to believe me," Azarenka told reporters. 

"There is sometimes incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written. But we're not villains. We're not heroes. We are regular human beings that go through so many, many things.

"Assumptions and judgments, all those comments, are just s--- because nobody's there to see the full story. It didn't matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through.

"It took me 10 years to get over it. I finally am over that."

Azarenka admitted the incident had a lingering effect on her psyche and affected her self-confidence.

"I've been called that I'm cheating, that I'm faking, that I was trying to throw people off their game," she said. "It's everything that is so wrong about my character if somebody actually knows me.

"At some point I've heard that, like, she has this thing that is bad or this thing is bad, whatever. At some point you're like, 'Really? Am I?' Those doubts starts to creep in."

The doubts did not go away overnight. And results and titles did not go far erase them, either. Azarenka has been transparent over the past three seasons about her struggles on and off the court, as she worked through the fear of failure that triggered anxiety and panic attacks. 

"I feel like the tennis court, probably for everybody, but for me especially, triggers a lot of those fears, a lot of anxiety," she said. "It's kind of like an open canvas. When everything comes there at a high-pressure moment, high-stress moment, weird emotions come on the court. A lot of it is about not running away from them. 

"I hear some people say, 'Try not to think about it.' I'm like, 'What are you talking about? How are you able not to think about anything?'

"It's just like a work in progress every day."

Azarenka is by far the most experienced player left in Melbourne. Her win over Pegula was her 47th main-draw victory in Melbourne, tying her with Stefanie Graf for sixth place on the all-time list. That experience tells her not to get over-excited about the prospect of rewriting her history in Melbourne.

"I don't really want to take my mind there," Azarenka said. "I just really want to focus on something that works for me, that keeps me focused, that keeps me calm, keeps me at peace. I think that is a very important part for me, to be at peace."