Australian Open: Defending champion Victoria Azarenka overcomes Sloane Stephens
Last Updated: 20/01/14 4:30pm
Victoria Azarenka: Beat Sloane Stephens in straight sets
Victoria Azarenka secured a second win over Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open but in far less controversial circumstances.
Azarenka is now a clear favourite to win her third straight title in Melbourne following early exits for Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, and the Belarusian looked very solid in a 6-3 6-2 victory to move through to the quarter-finals.
Twelve months ago the pair met in the last four and Azarenka found herself a hate figure for the Melbourne crowd after taking a long injury time-out with Stephens about to serve to stay in the match.
Azarenka had missed five match points in the previous game and in her on-court interview she joked she had almost committed "the choke of the year" against a teenager in her first grand slam semi-final.
Azarenka later insisted the break had not been tactical and she had in fact been treated for a rib problem that was making it hard for her to breathe but the damage was done.
The animosity bubbled to the surface during the seventh game of the match when Stephens chased down a drop shot and aimed her reply straight at her opponent.
She held her racket up in apology but a few points later Azarenka responded with a volley close to Stephens' head. The 20-year-old simply smiled and clapped her hand against her racket.
Mostly Azarenka was too in control of the match for there to be much tension. The second seed broke the Stephens serve for 3-1 and mostly it was the young American fighting to stay in touch.
Azarenka was given a time violation serving for the set at 5-3 but won the next two points to clinch it, and she began the third set with an immediate break.
Stephens has made the second week at five successive grand slams and she battled hard to hold on to her serve to make it 2-3. But Azarenka was relentless and a break for 5-2 meant the end was swift in coming.
"It was a tough match but I was ready to battle for as long as it took," Azarenka said.
"I'm glad I could find my rhythm and go for my shots. I just love playing here. It feels so cosy, it feels like home."
Azarenka will next face fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska after the former Wimbledon finalist saw off Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in straight sets.
Radwanska had no trouble dealing with Muguruza, who knocked out Caroline Wozniacki in the previous round, the Polish No 1 running away with a 6-1 6-3 victory.