Azarenka has Kerber in her sights in Australian Open quarters

Azarenka has Kerber in her sights in Australian Open quarters

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Victoria Azarenka surged into an Australian Open quarter-final against Angelique Kerber on Monday, with the odds heavily stacked in the two-time champion’s favour as she guns for a third Grand Slam title.

The former world number one, seeded 14, proved too strong for Czech Barbora Strycova on Rod Laver Arena, storming through 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-eight clash with the seventh seed, who beat fellow German Annika Beck 6-4, 6-0.

Azarenka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, has a 6-0 record over Kerber, including in the Brisbane International final this month, making her a hot favourite to keep her run for another title going.

Belarus’s Victoria Azarenka plays a forehand return during her Australian Open women’s singles fourth round match against Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova, in Melbourne, on January 25, 2016 ©William West (AFP)

“I’m looking forward to it. She’s such a fighter and such a nice person,” said the Belarusian, looking ahead to the test on Wednesday. “I’ll just give it my best and I’m sure she’ll do the same.”

Kerber powered past Beck to reach the quarter-finals for the first time and knows she has a formidable task ahead against a player who has won each of their encounters dating back to 2012.

“I had tough matches against her in the past. I never won against her right now, but that will be a challenge,” she said.

“I will looking forward when I play against her to really take my chances, take the next match.

“It’s a new one, it starts from zero, and I know what’s coming from her. I will try to be aggressive and try to go and win the match.”

World number one Serena Williams and fifth seeded arch-rival Maria Sharapova play each other in a headline last eight clash on Tuesday, while fourth seed Agnieszka Radwansa faces 10th seed Carla Suarez.

The final two players in the quarters will be determined later Monday when American Madison Keys squares off against Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai and British hope Johanna Konta plays Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova.

– Focused and composed –

Azarenka, 27, has been in the zone at Melbourne Park, dropping just 11 games in four matches as she zeroes in on a return to the top after battling injuries for the past two years.

She went into the Strycova clash with a clear advantage, whipping her on all four of their previous meetings, including at the last two Australian Opens — 6-1, 6-4 in 2014 and 6-4, 6-4 a year later.

But it wasn’t straightforward against the dangerous Czech, who stunned third seed Garbine Muguruza in the last round to secure her first fourth round appearance in Melbourne since her debut in 2004.

“She is such a tough opponent. I’m just happy I went through. I played smart, aggressive and really took my opportunities,” said Azarenka, after being kept on court for one hour, 26 minutes.

“Barbora really pushed me and I’m happy I could stay focused and composed.”

Melbourne Park has been a happy hunting ground for Azarenka, who has now made the quarters or better five times in her last seven attempts.

Kerber, who had a stellar 2015 but underachieved at the majors, eased past Beck who fell apart in the second set after pressing her compatriot hard in the first.

“I think my serve was not the best today,” said Kerber, 28. “I mean, I can serve for sure better and faster. It was a tough match, it was also tough mentally.”

Like Azarenka, Kerber is a form player, winning four titles last season — second only to Williams, who claimed five — although she failed to translate that to the Grand Slams.

She was sent packing in the third round or worse at all four majors, with her quarter-final appearance here the best she has managed in nine attempts in Melbourne.

Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova recovers after a fall during her Australian Open women's singles fourth round match against Belarus's Victoria Azarenka, in...

Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova recovers after a fall during her Australian Open women’s singles fourth round match against Belarus’s Victoria Azarenka, in Melbourne, on January 25, 2016 ©William West (AFP)

Germany's Angelique Kerber hits a forehand return during her Australian Open women's singles fourth round match against compatriot Annika Beck, in Melbourne,...

Germany’s Angelique Kerber hits a forehand return during her Australian Open women’s singles fourth round match against compatriot Annika Beck, in Melbourne, on January 25, 2016 ©William West (AFP)

Germany's Annika Beck plays a backhand return during her Australian Open women's singles fourth round match against compatriot Angelique Kerber, in Melbourne...

Germany’s Annika Beck plays a backhand return during her Australian Open women’s singles fourth round match against compatriot Angelique Kerber, in Melbourne, on January 25, 2016 ©William West (AFP)

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