Azarenka casts aside past demons at Open

Ten years after being cast as the villain on her way to her second Australian Open title, Victoria Azarenka has finally put devastating accusations of gamesmanship behind her as she chases a third crown.

The veteran Belarusian and 2012 and 2013 champion is into the Melbourne Park semi-finals for the third time after stunning world No.3 Jessica Pegula 6-4 6-1.

Azarenka became emotional when asked about her 2013 semi-final triumph over Sloane Stephens, where she was accused of gamesmanship for taking medical timeouts after blowing five match points.

"It was one of the worst things that I've ever gone through in my professional career: the way I was treated after that moment, the way I had to explain myself until 10.30pm at night because people didn't want to believe me," Azarenka said.

"I actually can resonate with what Novak (Djokovic) said the other day: there is sometimes, like, I don't know, incredible desire for a villain and a hero story that has to be written.

"But we're not villains, we're not heroes. We are regular human beings that go through so many things.

"Assumptions and judgements, all those comments, are just s*** because nobody's there to see the full story. It didn't matter how many times I said my story, it did not cut through.

"It took me 10 f***ing years to get over it. I finally am over that."

Azarenka admitted the personal insults that followed the incident had initially made her doubt her own character.

"I've been called that I'm cheating, that I'm faking, that I was trying to throw people off their game. It's everything that is so wrong about my character if somebody actually knows me," she said.

"... At some point you're like, 'really? Am I?' Those doubts starts to creep in.

"Now I just don't care. Like, I am more and more confident in what I know about myself, and I'm at peace with that."

Azarenka also opened up on dealing with anxiety throughout 2022, saying she now took a simpler approach.

"I don't think you recognise it right away. I think it builds up until you hit kind of a pretty bad spot where nothing kind of makes sense. You feel kind of lost," she said.

"I was at the point where I couldn't find anything that I feel good about myself, not like even one sentence."

Azarenka next faces No.22 seed and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Thursday for a spot in the final.

The 33-year-old respects the formidable challenge standing between her and a sixth grand slam final appearance on Saturday night.

"Her ranking obviously doesn't tell the full story," said the former world No.1.

"She's very powerful. Big serve. She's in the semi-final, so she's obviously playing amazing."

22-ELENA RYBAKINA (KAZ) leads 24-VICTORIA AZARENKA (BLR) 1-0

2022 Indian Wells, hard, R32, Rybakina 6-3 6-4

ELENA RYBAKINA

Age: 22

Ranking: 25

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US6,389,853

Career titles: 3

Grand slam titles: 1 (Wimbledon 2022)

Australian Open win-loss record: 9-3

Best Australian Open result: semi-finalist 2023

VICTORIA AZARENKA (BLR)

Age: 33

Ranking: 24

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US34,927,538

Career titles: 21

Grand slam titles: 2 (Australian Open 2012, 2013)

Australian Open win-loss record: 47-12

Best Australian Open results: champion 2012, 2013