Pegula targets first Grand Slam semi while Azarenka seeks revenge

Jan 24 (Reuters) - American third seed Jessica Pegula is back in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for a third straight year and on Tuesday she will try to get over that hurdle for the first time when she faces twice champion Victoria Azarenka.

Pegula is the highest seed left in the women's draw after Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur were knocked out in first-week upsets.

Although Pegula says she feels "weird being a favourite", the 28-year-old also feels confident and more settled than she has been in the past.

"I have a great shot here. Throughout the whole tournament I've been playing the best I have than in any of my other Grand Slam quarter-finals. That I think helps," Pegula said.

"I think I feel more experience coming in here... I would say I definitely feel very confident going into this quarter-final, that I'm playing the best tennis and I have a very good chance of making a semi."

Azarenka is back in the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the first time since she became a mother and the 33-year-old is out for revenge after she was knocked out by Pegula in 2021.

"She's an amazing player... She got me here, so I definitely want revenge," said the Belarusian, who won the title in 2012 and 2013.

"She's a great friend of mine, I absolutely adore her. We have really tough battles every single time. We practice with each other. There's going to be no surprises, absolutely."

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan toppled world number one Swiatek and faces another former Grand Slam champion in Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

Ostapenko won the French Open in 2017 two days after turning 20, but she has only reached one more Grand Slam semi-final since as she struggled to replicate that form and consistency while she came to terms with the sudden fame.

"My life changed a lot (after winning the French Open), so I needed a few years to really get used to what happened because I was really young," Ostapenko said after knocking out another American favourite, Coco Gauff.

"You became more popular in your country. Everybody is watching you. Of course, it's great, but I needed some time to get used to it.

"Sometimes I can go a little bit too much, but I'm an emotional person in general. So it's always hard to find this balance."

In the men's draw, American Sebastian Korda plays in his first major quarter-final against Karen Khachanov.

Khachanov has already dispatched another American, Frances Tiafoe, before winning 14 games in a row in a three-sets win over Yoshihito Nishioka.

Third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas rounds off the night session against the unheralded Czech Jiri Lehecka, who has beaten the odds having never moved past the first round in all four Grand Slams last year.

"Deep inside, me and my team, we believe that I have the game and that I am able to produce very good tennis, which can take me to higher places, to a better ranking," said the 21-year-old ranked 71 in the world.

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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