A loose and confident Victoria Azarenka overpowered Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals of the US Open where she will face a familiar foe in Serena Williams.
Azarenka, smiling and bobbing her head along to music being played during changeovers, spread the court with 21 winners to dominate 16th seed Mertens in their first career meeting.
She took the first set after the normally rock solid Belgian sent a forehand wide for her 13th unforced error of the frame. And the 31-year-old Belarusian did not take her foot off the gas in the second, running Mertens around the court and sealing the win when her opponent dumped a backhand into the net.
Azarenka, who won her first title in four years at the Western & Southern Open last month, said she is appreciating her time on the court more than ever. "I don't think I have ever enjoyed tennis, to be quite honest," she said.
"I felt that it was a job and something you were meant to do. Winning, you enjoy it. Losing, I was so upset and for a couple of days I couldn't function normally. Now nothing bothers me. I can say I am feeling the moment."
The win saw the two-time Grand Slam champion advance past the quarterfinals at a major for the first time since 2013 but a formidable foe stands in her way in the form of Serena who defeated Azarenka in her two US Open final appearances in 2012 and 2013.
Serena holds an 18-4 lead in their head-to-head match-ups, winning their most recent match at Indian Wells last year.
"Can it get any better?" Azarenka said of Thursday's semi-inal showdown with the American.
"It's an amazing opportunity to play against a champion, somebody who I respect a lot and is my friend. So I'm so excited for the opportunity and I hope people are excited too. I hope it will be fun, it will be fun for me."
Serena was forced to dig deep to secure a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, keeping alive her latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Serena, a six-time champion in New York, struggled with Pironkova's slice forehand early and was at risk of her earliest US Open exit in 14 years until she used her experience to find a way back against a resurgent Pironkova.
"I'm happy to be standing here ... because at one point I was pretty close to not being here," Serena said during the on-court winner's interview. "I keep fighting and that's one thing that I am super excited about is I never give up.”