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Azarenka sinks Ostapenko's AO 2024 campaign

  • Gill Tan

Given a choice between an easy or hard path, Victoria Azarenka – without hesitation – would leap at the latter.

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“I love the challenge. Whenever something is difficult, I love to do that, that makes me excited,” said the 18th seed after surging into the fourth round of Australian Open 2024 with a 6-1 7-5 victory over Jelena Ostapenko on Saturday.

“I think that brings out the best in me.”

Before stepping onto court to take on the 11th seed, the 34-year-old – who pointed to her temple after clinching match point – scrolled through TikTok as she weighed how to discuss mentality in sport with her son Leo in a way that resonates. One video, in particular, stood out.

MORE: AO 2024 women's singles draw

“I thought 'how can you get to a great place; how can you get to winning titles without pressure?' That’s impossible,” said the mother-of-one.

“You can’t run away from it, you have to face it right in front of you – it’s scary, it’s difficult but it’s something that you want to acknowledge and go through.

“[Leo] obviously watches me play, how I train, what I do. I want to be able to explain to him things, how to kind of verbalise some of the emotions and the feelings that I have and I go through because he's going to go through [similar] whichever sport he chooses.

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“I would love for him to experience and learn about his emotions and feelings, how do you don't step away from them, or turn around from things like pressure, how do you face that, how do you succeed and elevate your performance?”

Azarenka dug in after spotting her rival a big lead in the second set

During the one hour and 23-minute battle between former Grand Slam titlists at Margaret Court Arena, Azarenka rose to the occasion in those pressure moments.

The two-time AO champion fired 11 aces, including three to save break points while serving for the match, a position she fought to be in by recovering from a 2-5 deficit in the second set.

“I just kept telling myself 'it's just one break, just try to hold your serve, and then try to make her work for her game',” explained Azarenka.

Crucially, she limited her unforced errors to 17 compared to her rival’s 30, and extended her unbeaten record against the Latvian to 4-0.

The victory is Azarenka’s 50th at Melbourne Park, a milestone only achieved by five other players: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis – all former champions.

Azarenka doesn’t spend time reliving the past, and she’s not aiming to replicate the tennis that won her the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 2012 and 2013.

“I feel like I've definitely evolved as a player, the game itself [has] evolved,” said the thoughtful right-hander.

“I only compare to myself who I was yesterday … that perspective really helps me to understand how I can improve, how I can get better.

“I feel like I'm still growing, I still feel like I'm fulfilling my potential."

Azarenka credited the slew of women’s singles contenders – a field that includes Jasmine Paolini, Ocean Dodin, Anna Kalinskaya, Qinwen Zheng and her next opponent, Dayana Yastremska – who have fought their way to the fourth round of the AO for the first time.

“I think right now the level of tennis is very, very competitive, and we have a deep pool of players who can beat anybody on the given day,” she said.

“I think that's what makes them more dangerous, the consistency sometimes can be on and off – you don't know which player you're going to get on which day.

“The evidence of seeded players kind of being out early is that the quality and the level of other players is really high.”

Yastremska, a qualifier, has caused some of those upsets, knocking out 27th seed Emma Navarro and seventh seed Marketa Vondrousova, the reigning Wimbledon champion.

Azarenka will aim to avoid a similar fate by building on her 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the 23-year-old Ukrainian.