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May 30, 2017

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Radwanska shatters Azarenka jinx to reach semifinals at Aussie Open

MELBOURNE -- Agnieszka Radwanska played the role of underdog to perfection as she finally broke her jinx against two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka and knocked her out of the Australian Open Wednesday.

The determined Pole battled to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 win to send the Belarusian packing with the top three seeds now out of the Grand Slam following the defeats of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

It was a major scalp for Radwanska, who had lost all seven previous meetings with the Belarusian, and now goes into a semifinal with Slovak 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

The win also ensures the tournament will have a new champion with none of the semifinalists — Radwanska, Cibulkova, Li Na and Eugenie Bouchard — having won before.

"It's hard to play someone I lost (to) so many times before. I knew she's a great player. Especially here, she was playing amazing tennis," said Radwanska.

"On the other hand, I really had nothing to lose. She was defending the title, not me. I was really trying to play my best tennis, go for every shot I could.

"I'm just very happy because I really was playing great tennis."

One of Radwanska's challenges was to block out Azarenka's grunting, which she complained about at the 2012 Australian Open.

Fairfax Media said it had recorded a 90 decibel grunt in Azarenka's first-round match — louder even than renowned shrieker Sharapova.

Whatever the reason, Radwanska has always struggled against her. The pair, both 24, had met 15 times before with the Belarusian leading 12-3.

But the dam broke as Radwanska battled into her first semifinal in Melbourne, having made the quarters four times before without going further.

Azarenka had not dropped a set all tournament, but 47 unforced errors cost her dearly to end her 18-match win streak at Melbourne Park.

She was disappointed to be going home early and blowing the chance to win her third Australian Open in a row, a feat not achieved since Martina Hingis between 1997-99.

"I'll be fine tomorrow. I'll be working tomorrow. It's not the end of the world. But I'm not happy with what I did today," said Azarenka.

The calm and collected Pole opened her account on Rod Laver Arena with an easy service game and then shocked the world number two by breaking her when she hoisted a forehand wide.

Radwanska fought off an Azarenka break point in the third to go 3-0 ahead and in a pivotal fourth game, Azarenka deflected four break points before falling on a fifth when she sent a lob long.

The Polish star kept the pressure on by serving to go 5-0 in front, pushing the second seed around the court. Azarenka finally got a game on her next serve but the set was lost.

Azarenka was struggling and she needed to repel four break points in a 10-minute first game of the second set to hold.

They both held for 2-2 and then an Azarenka double-fault gifted Radwanska two break points in the fifth game and she accepted the present by drilling a backhand down the line.

Her joy was short-lived as Azarenka broke straight back and then held to be 4-3. It went with serve till 6-5 when the Belarusian finally pounced, blitzing a forehand winner to break for the set.

But Radwanska showed grit to bounce back and come through a tense 11-minute game to get the break and a 1-0 lead in the third.

She held serve, then broke again for 3-0 with a frustrated Azarenka having no answers to the Pole's all-court game.

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