WATCH: The Break previews the 2023 Australian Open women's semifinals


With Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both stepping away from the game in the last few years, Victoria Azarenka can rightfully—though surreally—be considered one of the few remaining elder stateswomen on the WTA circuit. The 33-year-old is the eldest of the four semifinalists at the 2023 Australian Open, but hers hardly feels like a sentimental run: the former No. 1 is very much in the mix alongside reigning Wimbledon champion and next opponent Elena Rybakina.

The two-time Australian Open champion last lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 2013, and though a strange and sometimes frustrating decade has followed, Azarenka looks back to her best as she goes for a third major title.

Can she pull off one of the more improbable victories of this post-pandemic era? Here’s why she will—and what she needs to watch out for:

Why She'll Win

If tennis is an experience game, Azarenka puts rings around those still remaining. She is playing her ninth Grand Slam semifinal, more than Rybakina, Aryna Sabalenka, and Magda Linette combined, and is playing on a surface she has consistently dominated at her best: of her 21 WTA titles, 20 have come on hard courts.

Since the tour resumed play in the summer of 2020, she has reached two WTA 1000 finals, winning the Western & Southern Open to foreshadow her runner-up finish at the US Open, and the BNP Paribas Open, where she played an insta-classic against eventual champion Paula Badosa.

That consistent level has been tough to come by, not only since the pandemic, but more broadly since she last topped the game in 2013. Injuries, maternity leave, and a protracted custody battle have all played their part in sidelining the veteran, but on-court anxiety has been a more recent culprit in keeping Azarenka off her best game.

“I think it builds up until you hit kind of a pretty bad spot where nothing kind of makes sense,” she explained after a comprehensive win over No. 3 seed Jessica Pegula. “You feel kind of lost. I was at the point where I couldn't find anything that I feel good about myself, not like even one sentence.


I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative. Accepting the anxiety that I have. Accepting the fear that I have. Kind of working through it. That was step by step. Victoria Azarenka

From a nadir in Ostrava last fall, Azarenka hit the reset button heading into 2023.

“I started with not trying to be positive, just trying to be neutral, not to go negative. Accepting the anxiety that I have. Accepting the fear that I have. Kind of working through it. That was step by step.”

Those steps have taken the No. 24 seed through an impressive run in Melbourne, defeating former champion Sofia Kenin and No. 10 seed Madison Keys before saving her best tennis for rival and fellow WTA Player Council member Pegula, who had beaten four months ago in Guadalajara.

“I felt like I've actually played some really good tennis from the beginning of the year,” she said. “I had some incredible matches in Adelaide. Very tight. Very good quality. Just wasn't really able to turn them into my way.

“But I felt also it kind of gave me that experience of those momentum shifts and what to do in the moment. So, I feel like that helped me to execute in the important moments a little better right now.“


What To Watch Out For

There will be plenty of important moments to come in the semifinals against Rybakina, as Azarenka will seek to avenge an emotional defeat against the Russian-born Kazakh last spring in Indian Wells.

“I'm looking forward to having that challenge,” Azarenka said.

“I think maybe she had a little bit of up and downs, but she's a very good, solid player. Her ranking obviously doesn't tell the full story. Yeah, she's very powerful. Big serve. She's in the semifinal, so she's obviously playing amazing. Had some really tough wins, good wins. So, yeah, it's going to be a big challenge. I'm excited about that.”

Where Azarenka takes time away from opponents by taking the ball on the rise, Rybakina can suffocate with her clean, easy power: she already proved her capabilities in with wins over 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, and former French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.

Beyond that, the question of Azarenka’s nerve in big matches remains; up an easy set and a break on Naomi Osaka in the finals of the 2020 US Open, the Belarusian quickly faded in three and has lost her share of close three-setters at Grand Slams in the two years since.

If she has indeed turned a corner Down Under, these next few matches will be the ultimate litmus test of just how much Azarenka has left in her arsenal.