WATCH: Azarenka addressed the crowd after her 67-minute steamroll of Elina Svitolina.

The stacked top half of the 2022 Australian Open women’s draw is starting to yield the big matches it promised on draw day, few more anticipated than the potential clash between two-time winner Victoria Azarenka and reigning Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova.

With top seed Ashleigh Barty and defending champ Naomi Osaka looking to book their fourth-round encounter later on Friday, Azarenka and Krejcikova opened play on Rod Laver Arena with disparate journeys but one destination—guaranteeing their first meeting since 2020.

That match took place in Ostrava, when Krejcikova was fresh off what was then considered a monumental run to the second week of Roland Garros while Azarenka had recently finished runner-up at the US Open. Azarenka had to rally from a set down to ultimately dispatch Krejcikova, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. Krejcikova has certainly improved since, backing up her stunning major triumph to reach the US Open quarterfinals and reach the Sydney International final just last week.

“I think the rise of Barbora has been pretty incredible over the last year and a half, basically since COVID,” Azarenka said in press, which she attended with son Leo. “She seems to elevate her game more and more. She has all the good tools to play. She can play aggressive, she can mix it up, and is a very dangerous player.”

Here’s how their third rounds shook out:


[24] Victoria Azarenka def. [15] Elina Svitolina, 6-0, 6-2

Azarenka came to RLA as the underdog on paper, was blessed and highly favored against a flagging Svitolina, who hadn’t beaten her in four previous encounters. A former world No. 3, Svitolina has largely struggled in the last two seasons and hasn’t looked the same since a heartbreaking US Open quarterfinal defeat to Leylah Fernandez last summer.

The Belarusian, by contrast, ended 2021 with a wave of momentum thanks to a run to the BNP Paribas Open final and kicked off the new year with an impressive run to the Adelaide International quarterfinals—highlighted by emphatic revenge over Indian Wells conqueror Paula Badosa.

Dropping just seven games through her first two matches, Azarenka reeled off the first eight against Svitolina, allowing her just 10 points in the first set.

Svitolina made an improbable last stand in a titanic final game, pushing the former world No. 1 through eight deuces and some audacious saves on match point, but Azarenka was ultimately undeterred, clinching the contest after 67 minutes and on her sixth opportunity.

Azarenka hasn’t been past the quarterfinals in Melbourne since winning the title in 2013, and hadn’t won a match at the Australian Open since 2016, but aims to save her memories—both good and bad—for the rear-view mirror.

“I think when you look in the past, which I particularly don't like to do, I think your memory is a bit distorted,” she said. “Maybe you want to remember something, maybe you want to forget the other thing.

“I kind of try to take it day by day. I think that kind of mentality, to stay in the present, continue to just do what I can in the moment, that's been helping me more rather than kind of comparing. I think that's really what I'm trying to say is that ladder that I want to climb step by step. I think the danger for me is to try to skip few steps. I think that is something I'm actually learning not to do. That's been helpful.”

Hitting a total 17 winners to just nine errors, she is quickly turning from outside contender to title favorite—provided, of course, she gets past Krejcikova…


[4] Barbora Krejcikova def. [26] Jelena Ostapenko, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4

…and Krejcikova proved she’s not so easy to pass following Azarenka on Friday, roaring back from a set and 3-1 down to win the battle of Roland Garros champions against Ostapenko in two hours and 10 minutes.

Ostapenko is arguably this era’s “original” Krejcikova, coming out of nowhere to nab her maiden major title back in 2017 with wins over Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. While the combustible Latvian peaked inside the world’s Top 5, she hasn’t been into the second week since 2018, when she made the Wimbledon semifinals.

Still, Ostapenko is never to be counted out in big matches, and ran hot early against Krejcikova without any of the serve or consistency woes that typically trouble her.

The Czech has admirably maintained a high standard since shocking the world in Paris, but found her opponent unplayable for about a set and a half before errors at last crept into the Ostapenko game.

Sensing opportunity, she tightened up her own game and nearly doubled her first serve percentage to sweep seven of the next eight games, easing ahead by a break in the final set.

That break proved crucial, even as Ostapenko repeatedly threatened to level with break chances of her own. Krejcikova would save all four and edge through a tense final game to complete a career set of major second-week appearances.

In fact, Krejcikova has reached the fourth round or better in five of her last six major appearances and as a late blooming former doubles specialist, has only featured in eight total Grand Slam main draws.

All of which combines for what promises to be an epic round of 16 against Azarenka, one that tennis fans won’t want to miss.