Angelique Kerber upsets Victoria Azarenka in Aussie quarters

MELBOURNE -- On her way to a widely anticipated final against Serena Williams, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka ran into an unexpected, and ultimately fatal, diversion Wednesday in Melbourne.

In their seventh meeting, Angelique Kerber of Germany beat Azarenka for the first time, 6-3, 7-5.

"I'm going to be disappointed today," Azarenka said. "I'm going to be pissed off. I'm going to let myself have that. But overall it's not going to affect me in any way because I know the work that I put through, it's paying off. I just need to do more. I need to keep going to be even more consistent. I've shown good signs. I've shown good quality, way more consistent, physically much better. I need to assess a little bit what I can improve and keep moving forward."

It has been 18 years since a German reached the semifinals at the Australian Open -- the last was Anke Huber in 1998 -- and this is the first time Kerber has been through to the quarterfinals and semifinals in Melbourne. It's the third major semifinal of her career, and this might have been the biggest victory of her career.

"I can't actually describe it," Kerber, 28, said in her on-court interview, voice quavering with emotion. "I was zero and six. When I came in the court, I thought, 'Just go for it, and believe that you can beat her.'"

Next up for Kerber is first-time major semifinalist Johanna Konta, a 6-4, 6-1 winner against Zhang Shuai.

Playing in her first Australian Open, Konta, a Sydney-born Great Britain citizen, lost just seven points on serve against Zhang.

"To be honest, I'm just taking it a match at a time and, really, a point at a time," Konta said in her on-court interview. "She didn't make it easy. Every time I got ahead, she was constantly there."

Konta becomes the first women's British player to reach a Slam semifinal since Jo Durie at the 1983 US Open and the first to do it at the Aussie since Sue Barker in 1977.

Currently ranked No. 144, Konta took out Venus Williams in the opening round last week. Including last year's US Open, Konta is 8-1 in her past nine major matches. Before that, her career mark stood at 1-6.

Zhang played the tournament of her life after having thoughts of retirement. She beat Simona Halep, Alize Cornet and Madison Keys. Against Konta, though, she had no aces and 20 unforced errors.

Konta and Kerber will be the second match in Thursday's semifinals, following the Serena Williams-Agnieszka Radwanska clash. Konta knows she has a stiff challenge.

"It will be my first match against her," Konta said. "She is a top-10 player, completely decorated and successful player. I'm just going to go out and bring to the court what I can."

Azarenka had been the second choice of the oddsmakers to win the year's first Grand Slam event, behind No. 1-seeded Williams, and she was the overwhelming choice of ESPN's tennis analysts. But on Wednesday, she lost the first four games of the match and, after saving three set points, the first set.

Kerber came back from a daunting 2-5 deficit in the second set, winning the last five games.

"I served very well and was moving good," Kerber said. "I think the key from this match was that I was playing and I won the match. She doesn't lose it; I actually won it."

With three set points on her racket, serving at 5-3 in the second set, Azarenka watched with horror as Kerber saved them all, plus two more, to force the set back on serve. On match point, a difficult-to-believe lunging backhand cross-court caught Azarenka too deep on the baseline, and she dumped it into the net.

In the end, Azarenka was just too sloppy, stroking 33 unforced errors versus 28 winners. Kerber was more efficient, with 31 winners against 16 unforced errors. Azarenka's serve failed her; she won only nine of 24 second-serve points.

"I think I was a little bit too flat today," Azarenka said. "I obviously didn't start great. For me personally, it was a little bit 10 percent not enough of everything. My footwork didn't have enough. My shots didn't have enough. I felt I did a little bit too many unforced errors in the key moments. I created a lot of opportunities, but then I was not enough on my opportunities. I didn't take them. I had plenty.

"You know, that's not going to win matches in quarterfinals. You have to bring it, and I didn't."

Despite the disparity in their head-to-head record, there have been some terrific matches between these two. The only previous major meeting was Azarenka's 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win at last year's 2015 US Open, a contest that went 2 hours, 52 minutes. Their three-set encounter in the 2012 WTA year-end tournament required 3 hours, 7 minutes.

Before Wednesday, they last played in the Jan. 9 final in Brisbane, a 6-3, 6-1 result for Azarenka.

Coming into Wednesday's match, Azarenka was 9-0 in 2016 and had lost only 11 games in four matches.

Kerber had dropped 30 games and had been on the court two hours more than Azarenka, but it was Kerber who showed more stamina, mentally and physically, in the big moments.

Now 10-1 on the season, Kerber is looking at a winnable match to advance to the first major final of the year.