Australian Open defending champion Victoria Azarenka has stormed into the fourth round to set up her first clash with American Sloane Stephens since a controversial semi-final last year.
Second seed Azarenka booked the meeting with 13th seed Stephens by thrashing Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger 6-1 6-0 in exactly an hour on Saturday night.
The hard-hitting Belarusian was dominant enough in the first set, winning the last five games.
But Azarenka’s dominance of the second set was extraordinary, as she won 24 of 29 points, at one stage winning 12 in succession.
It set up an interesting rematch.
Azarenka’s only previous meeting with Stephens was last year’s 6-1 6-4 semi-final win, when she was afterwards accused of “cheating within the rules” by the American’s then-coach David Nainkin for taking a medical time-out at a crucial stage.
Azarenka had just squandered five match points while attempting to serve out the match at 5-3.
After taking the 10-minute time-out, she returned to clinch victory on Stephens’ serve.
Asked in a courtside interview why she needed the time-out, Azarenka replied: “I almost did the choke of the year right now. At 5-3 having so many chances, couldn’t close it out.”
But Azarenka, who went on to beat China’s Li Na in the final, later defended herself against accusations of gamesmanship, saying she initially misunderstood the question and the time-out was prompted by a genuine rib injury.
Stephens, who had knocked out Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, was gracious about the incident at the time.
And the 20-year-old said on Saturday it meant nothing ahead of Monday’s fourth-round rematch.
“Last year has nothing to do with this year. It’s a totally different year, a lot of things have happened,” Stephens said.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back on the court.
Azarenka said she was looking forward to the contest.
“It’s going to be a great match,” she said.
“I’m really looking forward to playing Sloane.
“She’s a great player, she’s improved so much, I really have to bring my best game.”