Kerber conquers her nemesis Azarenka to book place in semis

Angelique Kerber celebrating her 6-3, 7-5 win against Victoria Azarenka (not in picture) in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
Angelique Kerber celebrating her 6-3, 7-5 win against Victoria Azarenka (not in picture) in the Australian Open quarter-finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MELBOURNE • The rankings suggested that Angelique Kerber's 6-3, 7-5 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open yesterday was not an upset.

At No. 6 in the world, Kerber was 10 spots higher than Azarenka.

But the joy on the German's face after she won the last five games of the second set to advance to her third career Grand Slam semi-final told a different story.

Since their first meeting in 2012, Azarenka - the bookmakers' second favourite to win here after Serena Williams - had become the blemish on Kerber's record that she could not blot out. Six played, six lost.

The rankings notwithstanding, the numbers were stacked against the German.

And so, in the pivotal moments of yesterday's match, she forced herself to forget her record, the score, and play as if she were on a practice court in her native Germany and not at the Rod Laver Arena.

"I was more aggressive than I was before," said Kerber, who finished with 31 winners to Azarenka's 18 in a slugfest that lasted 1hr 45min.

The Belarusian twice served for the second set. Kerber saved five set points, then dropped her racket in disbelief when her opponent netted a half-volley on the first match point.

Kerber won 22 of the last 30 points. Her victory over Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, reverberated through the draw like another bang on the drum of inclusivity.

The women are all-embracing, unlike the men, whose Grand Slam semi-finals have become an old boys' club.

In the past 16 Majors dating to the 2012 Australian Open, 16 men and 29 women have graced the final four.

Since 2012, 18 women have made a single semi-final cameo, including Kerber, who reached her first major semi-final since Wimbledon in 2012.

She credited her latest last-four appearance to compatriot Steffi Graf for giving her the belief that she can win big matches.

"Steffi is a champion. She taught me to believe in myself. She was and still is my idol," she said of Graf, who won 22 Grand Slam titles - an Open-era record that Williams is gunning to match in Melbourne.

"She won everything, she's a great person, as well. I was able to practise with her for a few days just before Indian Wells last year.

"But she taught me that actually I'm on a good way and to try to believe in myself.

"I was trying to do it in the last few months."

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'Kerber conquers her nemesis Azarenka to book place in semis'. Print Edition | Subscribe