clearn.png
Sunday February 5th, 2023 9:53PM

2-time Australian champ Azarenka tops Pegula, talks anxiety

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — On the court at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night, Victoria Azarenka — the athlete — displayed the same confident brand of take-the-ball-early, hard-hitting tennis that carried her to two Australian Open titles and the No. 1 ranking a decade ago.

That was responsible, in part, for the way she beat No. 3 seed Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 to return to the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the first time since those triumphs in 2012 and 2013.

After the match, Victoria Azarenka — the person — opened up about how, away from the court in recent months, she managed to learn a new mindset by, in her words, “Trying to be neutral, not to go negative; accepting the anxiety that I have; accepting the fear that I have.”

And that, too, she explained, allowed her to deal with a fear of failure and play once again to the very best of her considerable abilities, which she certainly did against Pegula, who hadn't dropped a set in the tournament and ceded only 18 games through four matches until Tuesday.

The two — her professional and personal lives — “are definitely connected,” Azarenka said.

“I don’t think that one goes without the other. I feel like a tennis court — probably for everybody, but for me, especially — triggers a lot of those fears, a lot of anxiety,” she continued. “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. Sometimes, like, ‘What ... are you thinking about on the court?’”

A key turning point, one that helped her realize she needed to confront what was bothering her, came when she broke a few rackets after a loss at a tournament in October.

“I don’t think you recognize it right away. I think it builds up until you hit kind of a pretty bad spot where nothing kind of makes sense. You feel kind of lost,” Azarenka said. “I was at the point where I couldn’t find anything that I feel good about myself. Not like even one sentence.”

The No. 24-seeded Azarenka’s semifinal opponent will be No. 22 Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, who defeated 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4.

Rybakina — who was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2018 because it offered to fund her tennis career — hit 11 aces to take her tournament-leading total to 35.

In men's action, Karen Khachanov reached his first semifinal at Melbourne Park — and made his second consecutive trip to the final four at a Grand Slam tournament, following his run at the U.S. Open last September — when 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda stopped playing in the third set because of an injured right wrist while trailing 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-0.

Khachanov will face No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4 winner over Jiri Lehecka, for a berth in the men’s final. Tsitsipas, a finalist at the 2021 French Open, got to the semifinals in Melbourne for the fourth time by saving all eight break points he faced.

A three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, most recently in 2020, Azarenka has always played most effectively on hard courts, and that showed again on this evening. She repeatedly got the better of lengthy exchanges of forehands and backhands; Pegula made eight of the match’s first 10 unforced errors.

After some misses, Pegula would sigh, roll her eyes, slump her shoulders. She often looked into the stands at her coach, Davis Witt, to say something, including one exclamation about the ball speed: “It’s so ... slow!”

“Just made it tough for me to feel like I could really pressure her,” Pegula said. “Felt like she was pressuring me constantly.”

Pegula, a 28-year-old from New York, was playing in the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the third year in a row but fell to 0-5 for her career at that stage in Grand Slam tournaments, with each loss in straight sets. Her parents own the NFL's Buffalo Bills, and Pegula wore a patch on her skirt during matches with the No. 3, the jersey number of player Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field during a game on Jan. 2.

Her exit Tuesday leaves No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka as the lone top-20 woman still in the bracket. On Wednesday, Sabalenka will play unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals, while No. 30 Karolina Pliskova faces unseeded Magda Linette.

Now 33 and a mother — she walked into the stadium wearing a jersey from Paris Saint-Germain, the favorite soccer team of her son, Leo — Azarenka, who is from Belarus, delivered big shot after big shot, raced to a 3-0 lead in 12 minutes, and never really let Pegula, a good friend, into the match.

“Leo doesn’t really care so much that I’m playing here. ... Obviously, he is watching some matches, but he definitely wants his mom to be home," Azarenka said. "So a few more days here, and I’ll be back.”

Might make the trip with a trophy in tow if she keeps playing like this.

___

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Football, AP Online Tennis, AP Sports - NFL
© Copyright 2023 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2-time Australian champ Azarenka tops Pegula, talks anxiety
Victoria Azarenka has defeated Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in a decade
7:15AM ( 3 minutes ago )
Poland asks Berlin to OK Ukraine tanks; Kyiv targets graft
Poland's defense minister says his country has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
6:51AM ( 26 minutes ago )
J&J tops 4Q earnings forecasts as profit, revenue slip
Johnson & Johnson beat earnings expectations in the final quarter of 2022 even as a strong dollar and sinking COVID-19 vaccine sales hurt revenue
6:49AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
2-time Australian Open champion Azarenka beats Pegula
Victoria Azarenka has defeated Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in a decade
5:36AM ( 1 hour ago )
2-time Australian Open champ Azarenka beats Pegula in semis
Victoria Azarenka has defeated Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in a decade
5:01AM ( 2 hours ago )
Korda stops; Khachanov into 1st Australian Open semifinal
Karen Khachanov moved into his first Australian Open semifinal when Sebastian Korda stopped playing in the third set because of an injured right wrist
2:04AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Sports
Georgia football transfer Thomas arrested on felony charge
A wide receiver who recently transferred to Georgia from Mississippi State has been arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges
2:31PM ( 16 hours ago )
James Madison finding success in transition to Sun Belt
James Madison’s winter sports teams have picked up where the fall programs left off in their transition from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Sun Belt Conference
1:20PM ( 17 hours ago )
Prescott, Cowboys stuck in divisional-round rut another year
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys still can't get out of their divisional-round rut
12:55PM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Online Football
With Djokovic's leg OK, he sees Australian title realistic
It took about a week for Novak Djokovic to go from worrying about whether he simply could play a match at all on his injured left hamstring to thinking he can win the Australian Open
8:32AM ( 22 hours ago )
Shelton, Paul give US 3 men in quarters at Australian Open
The next stop on Ben Shelton's impressive debut run at the Australian Open will be the quarterfinals
7:32AM ( 23 hours ago )
Florida's Shelton in quarterfinals in Australian Open debut
The next stop on Ben Shelton's impressive debut run at the Australian Open will be the quarterfinals
4:49AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Tennis
Depleted Bills produce a dud in playoff loss to Bengals
The Buffalo Bills ended a season in which they overcame much adversity by producing a dud in a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and the divisional round of the playoffs
8:38PM ( 1 day ago )
Cowboys kicker extends postseason woes with 5th missed PAT
Dallas kicker Brett Maher missed his fifth extra point of the postseason when his first attempt against San Francisco was blocked
8:33PM ( 1 day ago )
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard injures ankle vs. SF; ruled out
Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard was carted off the field late in the first half of Sunday’s divisional-round game against San Francisco after injuring his left ankle and was ruled out for the rest of the game
8:22PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Sports - NFL
Poland asks Berlin to OK Ukraine tanks; Kyiv targets graft
Poland's defense minister says his country has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
6:51AM ( 26 minutes ago )
J&J tops 4Q earnings forecasts as profit, revenue slip
Johnson & Johnson beat earnings expectations in the final quarter of 2022 even as a strong dollar and sinking COVID-19 vaccine sales hurt revenue
6:49AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Finland's top diplomat hints at joining NATO without Sweden
Finland’s top diplomat appears to have suggested that the country may have to join NATO without Sweden, after Turkey’s president cast doubt on expansion of the military alliance
6:27AM ( 50 minutes ago )
Searchers seek 2nd hiker in area where Julian Sands missing
Rescue personnel in California say they have launched a search for a second hiker on the same mountain where actor Julian Sands is missing
6:26AM ( 51 minutes ago )
7 dead as California mourns 3rd mass killing in 8 days
Seven people were killed in two related shootings Monday in a coastal community south of San Francisco
6:18AM ( 59 minutes ago )