Victoria Azarenka ready for 'top battles' after reaching Australian Open quarter-finals

Defending champions beats Elena Vesnina in Melbourne

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Victoria Azarenka is ready for some “top battles” as she bids to defend her Australian Open crown - starting with a tricky-looking quarter-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Azarenka breezed through her last-16 encounter with Elena Vesnina today, winning 6-1 6-1 in 57 minutes - the latest in a series of mis-matches in the women's draw.

But Kuznetsova is a different proposition.

Having spent the last six months of 2012 recovering from knee surgery, the two-time major champion is now fit and looking good.

"I think it's going to be a very tough match," said top seed Azarenka.

"I can see Sveta has come back much fresher, much stronger.

"She knows how to handle big stages, big tournaments. She's a grand slam champion as well.

"It's definitely an exciting match for me to be in. I'm sure it's going to be really tough but I will give my best."

Azarenka was pleased to have made untroubled progress today after being embroiled in a three-set battle with American Jamie Hampton on Saturday.

World number 47 Vesnina was overpowered and overwhelmed on Rod Laver Arena with Azarenka returning to the kind of form which carried her to the title 12 months ago.

"I felt like I was playing pretty well today," she added.

"I was focused and in control from the beginning. That was important for me.

"I feel like I'm improving from match to match. I just want to keep going the same way.

"With every match you build up, the top battles are starting now and it's exciting to be this far in the tournament."

Kuznetsova, a former world number two whose lay-off has seen her drop to 75, came through a tough three-setter with former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, winning 6-2 2-6 7-5.

And she admitted she had even surprised herself in reaching the last eight.

"If you had asked me before coming to Australia...I would have laughed," she said.

"I have been working hard but still I have not had much time to work on my fitness."

Kuznetsova has won four of her seven meetings with Azarenka but lost both in 2012 and she knows she is facing a player who has developed over the past 12 months.

"She has got calmer, more consistent," she said. "She works differently and has different goals.

"I think her head was letting her down all the time before. She would always go crazy in matches. But she's changed and become more stable."

American Sloane Stephens continued her impressive run in Melbourne by reaching her first grand slam quarter-final with a 6-1 3-6 7-5 defeat of Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.

The 19-year-old will meet the winner of tonight's clash between title favourite Serena Williams and Maria Kirilenko.

And it was Williams who came through with another masterclass on Rod Laver Arena.

Kirilenko was barely in the contest as the American cruised to a 6-2 6-0 win in under an hour.