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Match of the Day: Krejcikova's forehand flattens Azarenka

  • Matt Trollope

Barbora Krejickova remains one of the sport's hottest players after defeating Victoria Azarenka to reach her first Australian Open singles quarterfinal.

MORE: Women's singles results AO 2022

The fourth seed was far too strong for the former champion, winning 6-2 6-2 as Azarenka struggled with a neck issue.

Krejcikova's triumph, completed in under 90 minutes, sets up a clash with a resurgent Madison Keys, who earlier in the day saw off No.8 seed Paula Badosa.

The build-up

Krejcikova's victory, from a set and a break down, over Jelena Ostapenko saw her book a fourth-round meeting with Azarenka, who in her first three matches had looked utterly dominant at Melbourne Park.

MORE: Women's singles draw AO 2022

Krejcikova had lost to Azarenka in their only previous meeting in Ostrava in 2020 and spoke glowingly of her opponent ahead of this encounter.

Krejcikova blunted Azarenka at every turn

"I really admire her. Like the way she plays. I remember when I was a junior here and she was playing, she was actually winning the titles. I spent a lot of time watching her on TV," said the Czech. "I feel really honored that I am going to play with her on the same court against her."

But despite Azarenka being a former world No.1 and two-time AO champion, this was the furthest she had gone at the tournament in six years.

Instead, it was Krejcikova who entered this match-up as a greater current force at the majors.

In June, she broke through for her first major singles title at Roland Garros, and had progressed to the second week at every Slam since – fourth round at Wimbledon, quarters at the US Open, and the last 16 at AO 2022.

She peaked at world No.3 in November, and while a re-energised Azarenka had reached the Indian Wells final in October and won 10 of her past 13 matches, Krejickova was 37-11 since late May.

How the match unfolded

Almost immediately, Krejickova looked the more settled.

She broke in a lengthy third game of the opening set, taking a 2-1 lead after lofting a backhand lob, on the stretch, over the leaping Azarenka's racquet and onto the baseline.

Rolling forehand winners crosscourt and inside-in with easy power, Krejcikova extended her lead to 3-1 and broke again, with another forehand winner, for 5-2.

With the first set in hand, Krejickova broke immediately to begin the second with – you guessed it – another forehand winner.

But Azarenka's copious error tally signalled something was amiss, and she called for the trainer to work on her stiff, locked-up neck at the changeover.

That treatment, coupled with some painkillers, seemed to do the trick; Azarenka broke back to level scores at 2-2, thanks to a swinging volley that forced an error from the Czech.

Yet errors returned to her game, and a double-fault handed the break straight back to Krejcikova, who continued to power her forehand past the Belarusian to win the last four games of the match.

"Oh my god, I'm extremely happy that I won today," Krejickova smiled. "Like I was just doing everything to get this win, and I was really preparing for this a dream like this, to play on such a court, and to play a champion. It's hard to find words.

"I felt Vika was really a favourite to this match. So I was just really enjoying the match and just try to prepare for my best tennis, and I was happy I was able to do that."

The key stat

The statistics sheet proved how dominant Krejcikova's forehand felt during this match.

Of the 23 winners she struck on Sunday, almost half – 11 – came off that wing alone.

But her serve was not far behind in the potency stakes; she lost only four points for the entire match when she landed her first serve, slotting six aces.

What does it mean for Azarenka?

Currently ranked 25th, Azarenka will leave Melbourne understandably disappointed but no doubt encouraged by her 5-2 start to the year.

Her five wins have all come in straight sets, while her two losses – to Krejcikova today, and Iga Swiatek in Adelaide – have been to top-10 players.

Azarenka was treated mid-match for a sore neck

Yet her neck ailment continues a worrying trend of physical issues, given that four times last season she withdrew from tournaments – handing her opponents walkovers – due to injuries.

Should she enjoy an uninterrupted run of good health, and build some momentum, in 2022, chances are she does not remain outside the top 20 for long.

What next for Krejcikova?

During her on-court interview, Krejcikova's joy at reaching the AO quarterfinals was palpable.

She enters her quarterfinal against the unseeded Keys as the favourite to go further, while wary of the level the former world No.7 can produce.

Krejcikova plays unseeded Madison Keys in the quarterfinal

"I have never actually played her. So I think it's just, again, going to be a lot of fun. I hope I'm going to play on a big court again, and I hope we going to make a really good show for fans and they're going to enjoy it," she said.

"I'm really looking forward for that, because that's what I really want to do and that's where i want to be."