A fantastic fourth round clash has been set, as world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka is scheduled to meet rising American star Sloane Stephens for a spot in the quarter-finals stage in Melbourne. The two previously met at last year’s semi-final, where Azarenka was victorious in straight sets, brining their head-to-head record to 1-0 for the Belarusian.
Azarenka began her match on shaky terms, as she traded breaks with Yvonne Meusburger before reeling off the next 11 games to win the match 6-1, 6-0 to arrive at the fourth stage of the Australian Open. The tournament’s defending champion will next to get past American Sloane Stephens to reach the quarter-final stage of the tournament.
“Sloane is a great player and a very tough competitor,” Azarenka said. “She has a great record here. It’s going to be tough and every round is more challenging now. I’m looking forward to that match. I also feel like she’s improved so much. She proved that she can handle big stages. She can play against top players. So it’s always tough when a player like that knows how to handle themselves.”
World no. 13 Sloane Stephens advanced to the fourth round with a straight sets victory over Elina Svitolina, whom she defeated 7-5, 6-4. The American was down 5-3 in the opening set but won the following six games to take the set 7-5 and followed up with a more comfortable second set, eventually breaking to take it 6-4. The win sets up an anticipated rematch against the world No. 2, who halted her magnificent momentum in Melbourne last year in the semi-finals. Stephens had put herself on the map with her win over Serena Williams in the quarter-final but was unable to follow up on her historic win and would eventually succumb to the 2013 champ.
“It was a tough match – obviously semis of a Grand Slam, it was pretty intense,” Stephens said. “But last year has nothing to do with this year. It’s a totally different year. A lot of things have happened. I’ve been playing well and I’m just looking forward to getting back on the court.”
This marks the second time that the two will meet on the professional tour – both time in the Australian Open. Azarenka thoroughly dominated their encounter last year, dropping only five games to reach the 2013 final. While the Belarusian has not been at her best since the fall portion of the 2013 season, she has shown sparks of her old form and will likely still have the advantage over the budding Stephens. While the American has certainly improved in the past year, she will unlikely manage more than a set against Azarenka on Monday.
Prediction: Victoria Azarenka in Three Sets