By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - After two years in the spotlight as Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka was reduced to a spectator against Agnieszka Radwanska as she crashed out of the quarter-finals in a bout of self-flagellation on Wednesday.
Though digging deep to prise a set from the enterprising Pole, the world number two's title defense ended dismally, with a "bagel" the final flourish on the 6-1 5-7 6-0 score at Rod Laver Arena.
As much as Radwanska beat her with guile and a quiet determination, a screaming, hair-pulling Azarenka lost a battle with herself, enraged that her power game could so spectacularly misfire.
"The first set and the third set, I think there were just too many mistakes and too many easy mistakes on important moments," the Belarusian told reporters glumly
"She was getting to every ball. She guessed so many of my shots. But I felt like at one point I was being too predictable.
"She definitely took advantage of that. She was solid from the baseline. She came in when she needed to. She served well in the important moments. She was just doing everything a little bit better than me. I was just watching. I was like a spectator a little bit."
A picture of torment, Azarenka slumped to 5-0 down in the first set before finally holding serve.
She bashed her legs with her fists, letting out an angst-filled shriek to try to pump herself up, and she held her focus for long enough to break Radwanska's serve at 6-5 and capture the second set.
It was to be a brief rally as Radwanska knuckled down, defying the Belarusian with her hustle and infuriating her with a string of cheeky drop-shots and lobs.
Composure lost, 24-year-old Azarenka needlessly cannoned a ball into the back of the court to lose most of the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Although a deserved winner twice at Melbourne Park, local fans have struggled to embrace Azarenka, who was accused of gamesmanship last year for taking a prolonged medical time-out after blowing match-points in her semi-final against Sloane Stephens.
Sections of the terraces jeered as she shrieked in anguish, and mimicked her grunting as it grew in volume along with the match's intensity.
Azarenka agreed the tournament was a lost opportunity, with her nemesis Serena Williams and third seed Maria Sharapova already eliminated.
With Radwanska having provided a blueprint in how to blunt the Belarusian's power game, Azarenka said she would need to re-think her game, however difficult that might be.
"There's nothing else I can do right now. I can think about how I lost today, how disappointed I am today, what it is," she said.
"Think a little bit more on the court. Just try to figure out during play, not just kind of be in the clouds and watch the opponent play amazing.
"Just have to do something, something different, even if it's something that I don't like to do."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Patrick Johnston)