Americans fall: Pegula in straight sets; Korda exits with injury
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 dominated No. 3 seeded American 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?’ ”
While Azarenka had everything in sync, American Sebastian Korda’s bid for a spot in the men’s
semifinals ended abruptly when the 22-year-old stopped playing in the third set because of an injured right wrist while trailing Karen Khachanov 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-0.
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.
Korda was one of three American men in the quarterfinals. The other two — former Florida Gator Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul — will face each other Wednesday, assuring one U.S. player in the semifinals.
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.
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.
Her exit leaves No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka as the lone top-20 woman left. On Wednesday, Sabalenka will play unseeded Donna Vekic in the quarterfinals, while No. 30 Karolina Pliskova faces unseeded Magda Linette.