No looking back in anger for American Stephens

Reuters| Updated: Jan 18, 2014, 12:42 PM IST

Melbourne: Sloane Stephens was keen to swat away any references to a controversial clash against Victoria Azarenka at last year`s Australian Open as the American advanced to a possible fourth-round clash against the two-times champion on Monday.

"I don`t even remember half the stuff that happened," the 20-year-old said when questioned about a possible showdown with Azarenka after she had beaten Ukraine`s Elina Svitolina 7-5 6-4 in the third round on Saturday. "It`s okay.

"Last year has nothing to do with this year. It`s a totally different year. A lot of things have happened.

"So, you know, I`m just looking forward to getting back on the court ... hopefully on the big court. It will be exciting."

Azarenka, who was playing Austria`s Yvonne Meusburger later on Saturday, was accused of at best gamesmanship, at worst cheating, when she played Stephens in last year`s semi-finals at Melbourne Park.

Leading by a set and 5-4, the defending champion had just missed five match points when she took a 10-minute timeout, leaving her teenage opponent to sit and wait.

When she returned, the Belarussian broke Stephens to clinch a 6-1 6-4 victory and a place in the final.

As jeers rang out around Rod Laver Arena, Azarenka compounded matters by making a bizarre courtside speech.

"I almost did the choke of the year," she said. "At 5-3 I had so many chances but I couldn`t close it out. I felt a little bit overwhelmed that I was close to another final."

Azarenka later explained in a media conference she had misunderstood the question and had been battling a rib injury that affected her breathing.

Stephens, who had upset Serena Williams in the quarter-finals to face Azarenka for the place in the final, graciously said she felt the timeout had not been a factor in her loss.

"Looking back on it I don`t think that affected anything too much, but I definitely know, if I was in the same position, which I am - obviously not in the semis - but I know what I have to do.," Stephens said On Saturday.

"I have to play my game and focus on myself and focus on what I do best."

Stephens, still then a teenager, used her Australian Open experience to launch a breakthrough year on the WTA tour.

She reached the fourth round or better at each of the grand slams, finished it ranked a career-high 12th and felt her Australian Open semi-final had proved to be an important lesson.

"Obviously semis of a grand slam it was pretty intense ... it was definitely a learning experience for me," she said.

"I don`t get flustered as easily and (that is) something I have worked on.

"I don`t get overwhelmed and I`m kind of just learning to focus on myself, because that`s the only thing I can control, like the things that I do."