WATCH: Krejcikova began the 2022 season with a run to the Sydney International final.

Barbora Krejcikova is already a champion. Now, the Czech looks ready to become a star.

"I always wanted to play on a big stage," she mused on Sunday, "so I always wanted to play on a big stadium where there are a lot of fans there, giving us a nice atmosphere. It's a very nice motivation."

The reigning Roland Garros champion put down another comprehensive performance at the Australian Open, this time over former No. 1 and two-time winner Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 6-2, to reach her third major quarterfinal out of the last four.

"I really respect Vika," she said after the match. "I think Rod Laver Arena is like her living room. She really likes it there. She's really experienced on that court.

"I think it really gives me a lot of power for my next matches to keep going and keep improving on the court, to keep improving as a tennis player."

Prior to this year, the No. 4 seed had never been past the second round Down Under—in singles, at least: she’s won the mixed doubles title three years running—and began this season up against the unenviable prospect of reinventing the momentum that carried her to a miraculous singles breakthrough last spring.

"I wouldn't say it's disbelief," she said of her awed reaction to winning. "I would say it's just something special and magical. Couple months ago I wasn't even Top 100. Now I'm here and I'm playing on the biggest stadiums with the champions. I'm actually able to beat them."

From a runner-up finish in Sydney to her first week in Melbourne, the 26-year-old has put an emphatic end to any and all whispers of whether her Paris success was a fluke—largely thanks to an aesthetic, all-court game that, according to WTA Insider Senior Writer Courtney Nguyen, rivals world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty’s in its versatility.

She was expected to require every shot in her arsenal to oust an on-fire Azarenka, who dropped just nine games in her first three matches—including a 6-0 set against former world No. 3 Elina Svitolina on Friday. Carrying her own run of form from last fall, when she reached the BNP Paribas Open final, Azarenka was aiming to match the major success that has eluded her since she last hoisted the Daphne Akhurst trophy in 2013.

The Belarusian was ultimately in for a rude awakening against Krejcikova, whom she’d beaten in their only previous encounter back at the 2020 Ostrava Open. Krejcikova has made marked improvements in a mere 14 months, dominating the back of the court with the help of an impenetrable serve and forehand combination, striking six aces and 23 winners over the 85-minute match against Azarenka.


Though Krejcikova’s extreme-grip forehand can be vulnerable on occasion—particularly when rushed or subjected to off-pace shots—it was under no such threat against Azarenka, who began to fade in the second set thanks to a nagging neck injury that required attention from the trainer.

Spare a thought for Azarenka, who, at 32 years of age, has undoubtedly done the work to come back from giving birth to her first child, and has overcome myriad physical and personal strife to become nearly as good as she was at her early-2010s peak. Opportunities like these surely carry extra significance when looked through the “last best chance” lens, and that extra weight has likely contributed to this afternoon’s stumble on Rod Laver Arena.

Where Azarenka is left looking up, Krejcikova can feel herself rising higher; she, Barty, and Aryna Sabalenka remain in contention for the No. 1 ranking after this tournament. But Barty faces national scrutiny and Sabalenka deals with an unreliable serve, making Krejcikova is the least encumbered of the trio. Still, she may face her biggest test yet against a resurgent Madison Keys in the quarterfinals.

Keys possesses the very power to break down the Krejcikova forehand, the likes of which was on display during a 6-3, 6-1 beatdown of No. 8 seed Paula Badosa to start the afternoon. On track to pass her total match wins from last year in this month alone, Keys takes a nine-match winning streak into her clash with Krejcikova, along with the experience of having reached the Australian Open semifinals as a starry-eyed 19-year-old in 2015.

At 26, Keys has been a star of the game for nearly a decade, while the late-blooming Krejcikova has only recently entered the running towards becoming a household name.

It will be up to the Czech to keep the ball out of Keys’ formidable strike zone and use that versatility to get the American on the run. More than a fourth round against a former champion, it’s the quarterfinals against longtime ingenues Krejcikova will want to win.

"I really want to keep playing on these big courts. I really want the tournaments to have me there. I mean, I always loved it. It's not really something new. I always loved it."

It’s one more step for a star in the making.