Tennis

Rivarly renewed: Azarenka, Stephens to meet again at Aussie Open

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus
Victoria Azarenka cruised to a third-round win at the Australian Open.
Share This Story

   
 

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)

Sloane Stephens believes she's changed a lot in the year since her Australian Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka - a match that became clouded in controversy when the Belarussian took a medical timeout after wasting five match points, halting Stephens' momentum.

Stephens said she doesn't get flustered as easily now and she's not overwhelmed by matches on the big stages. She's also learning to focus on herself and tune out distractions on the other side of the net.

In short, she's ready for a rematch against Azarenka.

The second-seeded Azarenka and 13th-seeded Stephens set up a meeting in the fourth round at this year's Australian Open with straight-set wins on Saturday.

Azarenka, the two-time defending champion, needed just an hour to dispatch Austrian Yvonne Meusburger 6-1, 6-0, while Stephens had a more challenging time in her 7-5, 6-4 win over Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

The two haven't played since last year's contentious semifinal. Stephens characterized their off-court relationship as ''nonexistent.''

While last year's match was not particularly close - Azarenka won it 6-1, 6-4 - it certainly didn't lack for drama. Azarenka was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set when Stephens saved five match points and broke serve, prompting a clearly flustered Azarenka to call a medical timeout. She returned after nine minutes and promptly finished off the match.

Immediately afterward, Azarenka said in an on-court interview that she almost committed the ''choke of the year.'' Although she later said she misunderstood the question about the timeout. The medical staff reported that the timeout was to treat Azarenka's left knee and rib injuries, not her breathing.

Neither Stephens nor Azarenka wanted to revisit the subject after their third-round matches on Saturday.

''I don't even remember half the stuff that happened,'' Stephens said. ''Looking back on it, I don't think that affected anything too much.''

Azarenka was even less willing to discuss it.

''We left it all last year here, and that's what is important for me, is to play another match,'' she said. ''I'm looking forward to that match.''

Azarenka has won all three of her matches at this year's Australian Open in straight sets, though she was tested by Sweden's Johanna Larsson in the first round. She knows she will have to lift her game against a vastly improved Stephens, who has cracked the top 15 in the rankings and hired Roger Federer's former coach, Paul Annacone.

Stephens made it to the fourth round or better at all four majors last year - joining Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska as the only women's players to do that.

''She proved that she can handle big stages. She can play against top players,'' Azarenka said of Stephens. ''It's always going to be tough when a player like that knows how to handle themselves.''

And while Stephens concedes that Azarenka has more experience, she says she's better prepared now, too.

''Last year has nothing to do with this year,'' she said. ''It's a new match.''

Related Stories

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



Tennis Videos

Djokovic tops Federer in five-set Wimbledon final Posted: Jul 06, 2014
Novak Djokovic captures his second Wimbledon title while denying Roger Federer a...

Dramatic Moments of the Week: 6/2-6/8 Posted: Jun 09, 2014
We count down the most dramatic moments from the week in sports, including the K...

Williams sisters bounced at Roland Garros Posted: May 28, 2014
Andy Roddick on Venus and Serena losing on the same day at the French Open.

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store