MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka made it back to the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016 by beating Zhu Lin 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in a match that began late Sunday night and ended at nearly 2:20 a.m. on Monday.
“I really focused on staying patient, staying focused on myself,” said the 33-year-old Azarenka, who won the title in Australia in 2012 and 2013, “because it was very, very easy to just lose that patience, lose control, because it was very tough out there.”
The third set began with six consecutive breaks of serve, before Zhu finally was the first to hold, taking a 4-3 lead.
But the 24th-seeded Azarenka grabbed the final three games. She held, then broke to go up 5-4 when Zhu put a forehand into the net.
Azarenka faced two break points while trying to serve for the victory. She managed to save both and closed it out with a cross-court forehand winner after 2 hours, 40 minutes of play.
“It was a bit frustrating for me, I’m not going to lie. I probably didn’t show it, but I was a bit upset because, ‘When is it going to turn my way?’" Azarenka said. "At one point, I had to tell myself a little bit to stop thinking (about) what she’s doing, really focus on myself: ‘What I can do, control? I can’t control her making winners. I can’t control her hitting lines or playing amazing tennis. I can play a part in not letting her play such a good tennis.'”
The result ends a career-best run for the 87th-ranked Zhu, who had lost in the first or second round in each of her previous 13 Grand Slam appearances.
“I’m really exhausted right now. I mean, I gave everything out there. I’m really proud of myself,” Zhu said. “Victoria, she’s a Grand Slam champion. You have to be, like, 120%, even 200%, to be able to beat her.”
Azarenka will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula on Tuesday for a place in the semifinals.
Pegula eliminated 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-2 on Sunday.
“She’s a great friend of mine. I absolutely adore her,” Azarenka said about Pegula. “We have really tough battles every single time. We practice with each other. There’s going to be no surprises, absolutely.”
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