MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka’s "dream final" has come true, the Denver Broncos against the Carolina Panthers.
For another day at the Australian Open, tennis collided with football in Azarenka’s arena. She has been "dabbing" for days now after each victory and on Monday informed fans that she is a strong supporter of both NFL teams heading to the Super Bowl.
After quickly polishing off her fourth-round match Monday, beating Barbaro Strycova 6-2, 6-4, Azarenka had a question for the crowd.
"Can someone please tell me, did Broncos win?" the two-time Australian Open champion asked, taking over her on-court TV interview that was ostensibly meant to be about tennis. When she heard the Broncos had beaten the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, she shouted.
"Yesssss!!!!" — then she stepped back and raised both arms — "I’m so happy now."
Her interviewer posed an apt follow-up question: Are you happier about the Broncos’ win or your own?
"Both, both, both," said Azarenka, who faces No. 7 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals. She told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena she had been so nervous all morning — not about tennis — about the football games playing Sunday night in the U.S. around the time of her Monday morning match Down Under.
When told the Panthers had won the NFC decider, she was equally elated: "It’s going to be my dream final. I can’t wait to see that!"
The 26-year-old, who was born in Belarus, relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona when she was a teenager for tennis training. She now has a home in Los Angeles.
"It’s such a big sport in the States. You can’t miss it," said Azarenka, when asked when she became interested in football. "Once I started to understand American football more, it showed so much how strategic the game is and that fascinated me."
Earlier in the week, Azarenka introduced "the dab" to the Australian Open. She explained to the uninformed that Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton started the trend and she was adopting it as her own victory salute.
She and Cam share the same agent, she said, but Azarenka also supports Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning because of a mutual friend connection, although they’ve never met, she said.
Asked for her pick to win the Super Bowl, Azarenka couldn’t decide.
"I’m sitting this one out. Let the best team win. This was my dream final, to be honest, and so I can’t wait to actually see them both," said Azarenka.
Azarenka is coming off two injury-interrupted seasons, but is returning to the kind of form that took her to the No. 1-ranking and back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and ’13.
She won the Brisbane International leading into the first major of the season, and dropped only five games in her first three rounds at Melbourne Park. Strycova, who beat third-ranked Garbine Muguruza in the third round, took six games off Azarenka and walked off the court commenting how differently Azarenka is playing this season.
"She’s very hungry," Strycova said Monday. "I think she is the one who can think about the trophy."
To get the trophy, Azarenka first needs to beat Kerber in Wednesday’s quarterfinal — an opponent she has played six times and never lost. If she wins again, Azarenka could meet No. 1 Serena Williams in the final.
Asked what her dream final might be at the Australian Open?
"I don’t know," Azarenka laughed. "I’m staying out of that one, too."