The two-time Australian Open champion, now ranked 24th in the world, slumped back to beat Pegula, one of the most consistent players on the women’s tour over the past two seasons and remains favourite, 6-4 6-1 in just one hour and 37 minutes.
It marks Azarenka’s best performance in Melbourne since winning her second Australian Open title in 2013, where she reached a Grand Slam semi-final since 2020.
“It hurts me to beat her because I always want her to do well,” Azarenka said in her post-match interview. “But I know I need to play my best tennis because it has been so consistent. We had a lot of rallying… I had to stay there and take chances.
“I’m very proud that I executed my plan of play really well and it’s very surprising to be in a Grand Slam semi-final.
“Last year, my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t there mentally. I played with a lot of fear and anxiety — it’s hard to make the right decision when you’re anxious and indecisive, so I tried to push myself in the off-season.
“When you’re really successful sometimes you get reticent to try new things, so this season I was like, ‘I’m going to try new things, put my head down and work hard.'” ”
For Pegula, who is still waiting to reach her Grand Slam semi-final, there will be a lot to think about in the aftermath of her defeat, especially given the way her standards dropped dramatically in the second set.
“It got off to a really slow start,” former professional and current Eurosport tennis expert Barbara Sheet told CNN.
“At the beginning of the match, Azarenka was in control, so it was Pegula who reacted the most, but that is not her style of play.
“She likes to be in control of the matter and today that was not the case at all. I thought it was a good comeback in the first set, when it came to 5-4 she went back to serve, but again she panicked, she didn’t like the conditions, she went on to tell her coach: I do not know what to do.
“The balls are so slow, I feel like I can’t hit so fast.” So she was more focused on herself and in the second set also you could see in her body language that she wasn’t feeling good and I was thinking, last year she was playing against Ash Partey in the quarter finals and only won two games.
“Maybe it was in the back of her head as well, which she wanted to do really, really well this year and she just felt overwhelmed or the pressure really started to kick in.”
Azarenka, of course, knows what it takes to win major slams, having won twice before in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013. Conversely, Pegula has never before reached the semi-finals of a slam and looked nervous and exhausted on the occasion.
Many expected Pegula, world number three, to dominate with her powerful hitting, but she barely managed to get a foothold in the match early on as Azarenka took a 3-0 lead in the first set thanks to some precision and flourishes. ground blows.
Pegula eventually got to the scoreboard with a gritty, hard serve hold, saving five break points in a match that lasted over 10 minutes.
However, she soon begins cutting a frustrated figure on the court, apparently trying to play inside herself in an effort to keep her shots inside the court. At one point, she looked toward her chest and muttered out of her breath, muttering in confusion as she tried to find an answer to Azarenka’s precocious brilliance.
With Azarenka leading 4-2, Pegula had a fantastic break opportunity, but the Belarusian held her ground to avoid two break points twice to preserve her narrow lead in the first set.
However, with Azarenka serving out the first set at 5-3, a combination of nerves and Pegula’s much-improved hitting finally saw the 33-year-old break for the first time in the match to keep the first set alive.
But any hopes Pegula had of turning the set around were quickly wiped out by Azarenka, who broke straight away to take the first set.
Aside from the small serve hit, it was an impressive opening combination from Azarenka and reminiscent of the form that helped her win her first major slam Down Under in over a decade.
Things went from bad to worse for Pergola in the second set as Azarenka held and then broke to open a 2-0 lead.
Pegula looked bewildered after another stroke had been on the floor for a long time and this time began to surging and slashing towards her box in growing frustration, slamming a ball into the court in a rage.
Perhaps the blast was the stress relief Pegula needed as she quickly began hitting her shots with more power and accuracy, breaking Azarenka at the first time of asking.
However, in a match that continued to ebb and flow, Azarenka again immediately broke his back and then held serve to open up a solid 4-1 lead and put one foot into the semi-finals.
Azarenka has made a name as one of the best returners in the women’s game and has so far been nullifying Pegula’s serve, a weapon that has given the American so much cheer in recent seasons.
Pegula now looked battered when Azarenka started wearing it from the baseline; If Pegula had hoped that her opponent would level up at some point, she might have realized at this moment that it wouldn’t.
I tried a few desperate shots trying to mix things up, but one particularly weak shot was ricocheted back and confidently served by Azarenka.
Azarenka then broke Pegula for the fourth game in a row and with it the final bit of her resolve took a 5-1 lead and then promptly served the match.
Vika joked in her post-match interview that she was anxious to be home with her son – who Azarenka admits plays football more than tennis – and her new dog.
If Azarenka keeps playing like she did on Tuesday, they’ll probably wait until next week for mom to come home.