Pegula* 4-6, 1-4 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
Pegula is returning better than she’s serving and a nice if risky little dink over the net brings her the first point before losing the next with a netted forehand. An overhit return takes it to 30-15 as Pegula offers up a mournful sigh. The next rally is an epic one, mostly dominated by Pegula but won by Azarenka who unlike her opponent seizes her opportunity with a passing shot down the line. It becomes an easy hold, the first for a while. Pegula is staring down the barrel here.
Pegula 4-6, 1-3 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
The roof’s still over Rod Laver Arena after the earlier rain, depriving those inside of what is now a lovely Melbourne sunset. Pegula is made to work in her service game again, not helped by a soft forehand into the net for 30-30. Azarenka helps her out though with a misjudged sliced backhand too long, but atones with a forensic and fierce driving forehand to take us to deuce. Azarenka then shanks one off the edge of her racket but dominates the next rally to secure deuce No 2, then carves out another break point by pushing her opponent further back in the court. She takes it too, in a similarly dominant return, to secure a third successive break of Pegula’s serve. Azarenka’s rolling back the years here. Can she consolidate the break this time?
Pegula* 4-6, 1-2 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
Pegula breaks back in her most impressive game of the match so far, her range of shots more to the fore. A morale-boosting backhand drop shot from Pegula foxes Azarenka in the context of a long exchange from the back of the court, and a searing forehand winner gives Pegula a chance at 0-30. A good wide serve from Azarenka cuts the deficit. But Pegula snatches two more break points when the Belarussian sends a backhand wide. Dominant serve-volleying saves the first of them but can’t save the next, an errant backhand gifting Pegula the break-back.
Pegula 4-6, 0-2 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
Azarenka sends an awry forehand wide, and a booming serve down the middle takes Pegula to 30-0. But the American continue to err with back-of-court attempted winners and sends two long in a row, and Azarenka forces another break point with a strong return to the corner. It’s taken too when Pegula hits long – again. Is her quarter-final curse continuing?
Pegula* 4-6, 0-1 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
The opening stages of this set feel pivotal after the first set ended with the players looking more closely matched, and Azarenka, who has not looked like the underdog at any point, races through a service hold to love.
Pegula 4-6 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
Pegula starts her service game strongly but a needless hoick into the net from close range pegs her back to 15-15, and Azarenka’s smart backhand volley at the net gives her another chink at 15-30. She dominates the next point too with more smart volleying to gain two more set points. And this time Azarenka cashes in. Set point No 5 is converted when Pegula sends a forehand wide. Just as momentum looked as if it was with the No 3 seed, Azarenka has shown her tenacity to snatch the set.
Pegula* 4-5 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
Azarenka loses her hitherto strong grip on the match as Pegula breaks back after saving two more set points. Azarenka rasps a double-handed backhand into the corner to settle an excellent rally for 30-15, and another overhit forehand grants Azarenka two set points, which are also squandered. The first is saved after a gruelling slogfest ends in a fierce forehand from the American, and the second by a fine driving volley from the encroaching Pegula. And suddenly, she has a break point after Azarenka double-faults. And this one is taken after another lengthy exchange ends with the Belarussian skewing a forehand wide. Game on.
Pegula 3-5 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
Azarenka squanders a chance to wrap up the set as Pegula digs in to hold. A double-fault puts Pegula in more bother at 0-30 before she gets lucky with a net cord deflection to get on the board. But another careless long backhand from the American gifts Azarenka two set points. The first is saved courtesy of a strong first serve, as is the second. And Azarenka then overcooks her return before another overlong backhand from Pegula gets us back to deuce. A brilliant ace ensues and Pegula goes on to hold.
Pegula* 2-5 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
Apologies for the break in coverage – work/life balance issues. Anyway, three more service holds have ensued leaving Pegula serving to stay in the set, Pegula missing a chance to break in the last game.
Pegula 1-3 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
An audacious lob sets Azarenka on her way again and Pegula then nets to give her opponent another platform at 0-30. She’s looking a tad out of sorts but manages to point Azarenka around the court to win the ensuing point but a searing forehand winner from the back of the court delivers two more break points. Pegula saves them both with a couple of fine angled serves before coughing up another with a miscued return into the net. Pegula saves this one too with a forehand at the net. She gets an advantage before being pegged back to deuce. Azarenka unleashes a stunning forehand to gain another break point but Pegula again digs in. And eventually the American holds firm to get on the board.
Pegula* 0-3 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
Azarenka’s looking confident and forceful – these are so often the occasions when experience and muscle-memory come to the fore. Pegula’s a deft shotmaker though and a penetrating low forehand gets her to 15-all. Azarenka then gets lucky with a net cord before Pegula pulls it back to 30-all, dominating at the net. Some strong serving then secures the hold.
Pegula 0-2 Azarenka* (* denotes next server).
First blood to Azarenka as the Belarussian breaks. Pegula shows her class with a superb stretching crosscourt backhand that atones for a previous error to make it 15-15. But an overhit forehand gives Azarenka an opening at 15-30. It’s two break points when Pegula skews a forehand wide. She takes it straight away after dominating an absorbing rally.
Pegula* 0-1 Azarenka (* denotes next server).
A wrongfooting forehand winner and an instinctive smash at the net after a net cord get Azarenka under way before Pegula outsmarts Azarenka at the net after a fine rally. A booming Pegula forehand gets the American back to 30-30. Azarenka is made to work hard to win the next point but manages to do so when Pegula hits long. Azarenka secures the hold when Pegula nets. A competitive fiercely fought first game though.
The players are out on court knocking up, Pegula chasing her first slam semi-final appearance, Azarenka having reached eight.
Morning/evening everyone. The tournament’s properly thinning out now, granting Melbourne Park’s neighbours a chance for some rare kip. The evening session in the Rod Laver Arena begins with Jessica Pegula, the highest seed remaining at No 3, taking on the seasoned battler Victoria Azarenka, seeded 24 but impressing once more in this tournament. Tumaini had an interesting chat with Pegula before this year’s event began, in which she chatted about her up-and-down path to the top and being one of the more materially privileged players on the tour.
After that comes the men’s quarter-final between Stefanos Tsitsipas and the unseeded but promising Jiri Lehecka. Tsitsias is perhaps the strongest obstacle to another Novak Djokovic title but he was put through the wringer in an absorbing five-setter against Jannik Sinner on Sunday so it will be interesting to see how he’s bounced back from that.
Earlier, Karen Khachanov beat Sebastian Korda in the men’s quarter-finals, with the latter retiring injured in the third set at two sets down, and the Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina cruised past Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4. Here’s a brief PA Media take:
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina eased into the semi-finals of the Australian Open with a straight-sets victory over Jelena Ostapenko.
As expected between two of the biggest hitters on the women’s tour, this was first-strike tennis but Rybakina was the steadier in a 6-2 6-4 victory on Rod Laver Arena.
Both had caused upsets in the previous round, Rybakina defeating world number one Iga Swiatek and Ostapenko powering past Coco Gauff.
The Latvian, the French Open champion in 2017, was through to her first grand slam quarter-final for nearly five years, but produced too many errors to put any real pressure on Rybakina.