Azarenka battles past Zhu in late-night thriller, moves into Australian Open quarterfinals

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Before their today’s encounter Victoria Azarenka didn’t even know who Zhu Lin was, but the former world No.1 will now sure remember this Chinese player who challenged her well past 2 a.m. in Rod Laver Arena on Sunday/Monday. In the end, the last woman to defend her Australian Open title is through to the quarterfinals at this year’s edition of the Grand Slam event.

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus

The world No.87 Zhu had the upper hand in the first set, as her service games lasted close to two minutes on average, while Azarenka’s lasted close to six. Even though Azarenka recovered from a break down early on, the 2012-2013 Australian Open champion wasn’t able to push through as Zhu won a crucial break in the seventh game.

After the 24th-seeded Azarenka raced through the second set and opened the third set with a break, it looked like her experience would prevail, but the end was not so near. It was just the beginning of a break fest that was leading the match past 2 a.m. Melbourne time.

After six consecutive breaks of serve, Zhu was the first one to hold as she took a 4-3 lead without losing a single point in her service game. Interestingly, Azarenka responded with just as dominant service hold of her own.

In the following game, Azarenka once again pulled off a break and gave us a hint that her history at this tournament would help her push through. The 28-year-old Zhu, who had never been beyond second round at a major, eventually succumbed as Azarenka converted her first match point and progressed with a 4-6 6-1 6-4 victory.

Azarenka’s quarterfinal opponent will be third seed Jessica Pegula, who defeated Barbora Krejcikova 7-5 6-2 in the fourth round.

Earlier on Sunday, reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Jelena Ostapenko booked a quarterfinal meeting in Melbourne, as the former dispatched top seed Iga Swiatek and the latter eliminated seventh seed Coco Gauff.

The other four quarterfinalists will be determined on Monday, after the second half of fourth-round action completes.

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