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Report: Azarenka blitz leaves Keys lost

  • Alex Sharp

Women's singles third round

Experience told under the lights on Rod Laver Arena on Friday night, as two-time champion Victoria Azarenka returned to the Australian Open fourth round with typically resilient display.

MORE: All the scores from Day 5 at AO 2023

The world No.24 maintained her unbeaten record facing 10th seed Madison Keys with 1-6 6-2 6-1 result. 

The build-up

A bout of two big hitters, this was well worth the primetime spot.

Azarenka, the last woman to defend the Melbourne Park title in 2012-13, has made a sharp start in Melbourne.

A straight-sets passage past AO 2020 champion Sofia Kenin was followed by a ruthless 6-1 6-0 demolition of Nadia Podoroska.

With 150 Grand Slam wins to her name, Azarenka had the experience and form to compile another deep run.

On top of that, the 33-year-old held a 3-0 record over Keys, most recently fighting back 6-4 6-7(4) 6-1 in Guadalajara three months ago. 

Saying that, Keys was a key component of the United States' United Cup triumph earlier this month with a 5-0 tally. 

Story of the match

Keys was on it from the very start, missiling a backhand down the line to spark a 2-0 advantage. 

Four games in a row helped complete a clinical set, courtesy of 14 rattling winners.

Keys went from dominant to dominated in an instant (Getty Images)

World No.24 Azarenka then began to seize the initiative in a collection of extended rallies. The 33-year-old illustrated her extensive defensive skills to tease the errors from the Keys racquet for a 3-1 lead.

Azarenka used her astute point construction to scorch through eight successive games to truly stamp her authority. At 4-0 a backhand stop volley on the stretch was a sprinkling of magic to toast another standout performance from the former champion. 

"Madison was playing great from the start of the year, made semis here last year, so I knew she'd feel comfortable. She came out firing from all corners and I felt I was just rushing," reflected Azarenka.

"I couldn't get into my rhythm. I just fought for every point and managed to turn it around. It worked really well. She's a great player, great friend, we'll always play tough matches, so it's never easy."

Key stats

In typical fashion, Keys pulled the trigger early in points, but was let down by a ratio of 27-39 winners to unforced errors. 

Azarenka was efficient off both groundstroke wings. However, she bemoaned her lack of potency on serve in the opener.

Just 50 per cent of first serves landed in the first set caused the former world No.1 trouble, and she boosted that number to 60 per cent and 64 per cent in the next sets, "serving smarter and using the second shot better."

To launch into title contention, Azarenka will want to retain those latter numbers. 

What this means for Azarenka 

Evergreen is the word. Azarenka just keeps on delivering on the major stage, and no one will want to face her this fortnight. 

MORE: AO 2023 women's singles draw

World No.86 Zhu Lin or 7th seed Maria Sakkari awaits in the last 16. On Friday's form, Azarenka will really fancy her chances of reaching a fourth quarter-final Down Under. 

For someone of Azarenka's experience, it's about maximising the free time away from site.

Azarenka in this frame of mind will be a tough out in Melbourne (Getty Images)

"I try to be more open-minded the older I get. When I was 20 years old, I'd come here and just lock onto tennis. I try to find the little things off court that keeps me happy and sane. Photography has been one of them, and riding an electric bike around Melbourne city has been pretty fun. 

"Sometimes I arrive with my bike and people are like, 'Oh it's Azarenka!'"

What's next for Keys?

This defeat will sting for Keys, especially as she made such a standout start. 

The American hard court swing on home soil could treat her well in terms of results. The 27-year-old will seek to replicate the form she found at the United Cup, too.