The victory marked the 33-year-old’s first time in a decade reaching the last four at Melbourne Park and she will make her first appearance in a major semifinal since the 2020 US Open, where she went on to lose in the title fight.
“Well, it hurts to beat her because I always want her to do well, but at the same time I know I have to play my best tennis,” Azarenka said of her friend and practice partner Pegula.
“She plays great, very consistent and I knew from the first point I had to bring it.
“We had so many rallies and I wanted to try and stay there, take chances because she would take everything if I wasn’t trying to win myself and I’m very proud that I executed my game plan really well.”
The last woman to defend the Australian Open title after her 2013 win, Azarenka played superbly and raced to a 3-0 lead over American Pegula in the first set before the top seed left in the draw for the women finally held the service.
Pegula found her rhythm playing closer to the baseline and controlling the rallies to break back, but Belarus’ Azarenka found another gear to get ahead in the game before both players failed to hold their serve in the next one.
However, former world number one Azarenka took the decisive lead and closed out the match to set up a semifinal meeting with Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina after the Kazakh 22nd seed defeated former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.
“It’s so great to be in the semifinals of another Grand Slam,” said Azarenka. “Especially last year I felt that my tennis wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t really ready mentally to go out.
“I played with a lot of fear, with a lot of fear and it was really hard to be brave and make the right choices at an important moment when you’re anxious, when you’re hesitant.
“I’ve been working on my mindset a lot, challenging myself with things I wouldn’t do before and pushing myself forward.
“Because when you get big success sometimes you get conservative and you’re a little bit more hesitant to try new things. This off season I felt like I’d just be open minded to try new things and lay my head down and be to work.” difficult.”