Azarenka books Open quarter-finals berth

It was a great day at Melbourne Park for Victoria Azarenka, a self-confessed “diehard” sports fan.

The Belarusian is one step closer to her dream of a third Australian Open title after easing past Barbora Strycova 6-2 6-4 to book a berth in the quarter-finals.

But at least with tennis, she’s in control.

Keeping a lid on her NFL interests is another matter altogether.

Azarenka jumped for joy on Rod Laver Arena after learning quarterback Peyton Manning had led her beloved Denver Broncos past New England in the NFL’s AFC championship match.

February’s Super Bowl shapes as a no-lose scenario for the Belarusian, whose sporting interests also include Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, whose Panthers will square off against the Broncos in the NFL’s title match.

“When I’m a fan of somebody, I’m a diehard,” said Azarenka, who spends a lot of time in the US.

“I’ll get nervous. I get emotional. I understand all that.

“But when I play, I’m in control.

“I’m in control of my body, of my emotions. That’s all on me.

“When it’s somebody else doing it and I have absolutely no control, I go loco.”

She was in control when it mattered against Strycova on Monday, ending the Czech baseliner’s Open campaign for a third straight year and advancing to a quarter-final against German No.7 seed Angelique Kerber.

The Australian Open has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Azarenka, whose only two major titles came at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013.

Strycova had her moments in Monday’s match without ever really threatening to emulate her shock third-round victory over No.3 seed Garbine Muguruza from Spain.

“She’s such a tough opponent and I’m just so happy I went though,” Azarenka said.

“I played smart, I played aggressive.”

The No.14 seed has dropped just 11 games in her first four matches and shapes as the biggest title threat to world No.1 Serena Williams.

Kerber advanced to the last eight at Melbourne Park for the first time in 10 attempts following a 6-4 6-0 win over fellow German Annika Beck.

After being down match point in her first-round encounter against Japan’s Misaki Doi, Kerber has built steadily through the tournament.

“I actually had one leg on the plane back home, but I won the first match with the match point down,” she said.

“The first matches are always tough in the grand slams.

“I’ve had tough matches against Azarenka in the past, the last one was in Brisbane in the final (which she lost in straight sets).

“I have never won against her but that will be the challenge.

“It’s a new one, it starts from zero, and I know what’s coming from her.”

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