By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Silent assassin Agnieszka Radwanska toppled a shrieking Victoria Azarenka 6-1 5-7 6-0 on Wednesday to end the Belarusian's bid for a hat-trick of titles and reach her maiden Australian Open semi-final.
The crafty Pole frustrated Azarenka with a scrambling, cat-and-mouse game early and completely dismantled the Belarusian in the final set to close out one of her finest victories in two sun-drenched hours at Rod Laver Arena.
In a tournament littered with big upsets, Radwanska booked a semi-final against 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova, and put herself in the box seat to crack her first grand slam title after coming close in a heartbreaking loss to Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2012.
Radwanska also missed a big chance at the championships last year when she was dumped by unheralded German Sabine Lisicki in the semi-finals.
The 24-year-old Pole said dwelling on the near-misses would not be in her preparations.
"Of course, losing matches like at Wimbledon, it's always disappointing. It's kind of painful, as well, especially that it was the semi-final of a grand slam.
"But I think you're playing so many tournaments, so many very important matches, that it takes really not much time to forget.
"I think every grand slam is a different story. I'm trying not to really think about other matches, especially tough matches that I lost."
Radwanska at least won't have to deal with either top seed Williams or Lisicki, who were both eliminated earlier along with former champion and third seed Maria Sharapova.
China's Li Na, seeded fourth and twice a finalist, is the highest ranked player left in the women's draw and will play 19-year-old Canadian sensation Eugenie Bouchard in the other semi-final.
For Azarenka, it was a lost opportunity, and the Belarusian admitted as much after spraying 47 unforced errors to gift her opponent a huge headstart in the first and third sets.
"She was aggressive. She was making everything. She was guessing right. I was just playing a little bit too predictable," the 24-year-old told reporters.
"I'll be fine tomorrow. I'll be working tomorrow. It's not the end of the world.
"But on the court I felt like I could have played a lot better. I could have changed something today. Could have been more sharp. There's so much to improve from today."
After slumping to 5-0 down in the first set, she finally held serve in the sixth game and pummeled her legs with her fists, letting out an angst-filled shriek to try to pump herself up.
Radwanska simply went about her business with a quiet determination, closing out the set by bamboozling the Belarusian with a deft drop-shot.
Azarenka rallied, pouncing on Radwanska's serve with a string of fierce returns at 6-5 and leveled the match with a searing crosscourt winner.
The Belarusian dipped again, though, double-faulting to bring up a second break point in the opening game of the third set, and floated a backhand long to lose serve.
After Radwanska held a tough service game to move 2-0 ahead, Azarenka needlessly blasted a ball into the back of the court raising jeers from the crowd, and promptly lost the next four points to go a double-break down.
Tested on serve again, Radwanska raised huge roars from the terraces with a succession of exquisite points, scrambling down a series of would-be winners to hold to 5-0 before Azarenka crumbled in the final game.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)