MELBOURNE, Australia – Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka shifted the spotlight from a tense rematch to her personal life with a center-court remark to rapper boyfriend Redfoo: She wants a ring with bling.
She may have been joking. Or not.
The comment offered the crowd a light-hearted laugh after Azarenka played Sloane Stephens for the first time since a contentious Australian Open semifinal last year, when Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship for an ill-timed medical timeout.
Like last year, Azarenka beat Stephens on Monday, winning 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals and stay on track for her third straight Australian Open title.
Unlike last year, Monday's fourth-round match offered little drama. Both Azarenka and Stephens have vigorously denied any lingering tensions and publicly, at least, heaped praise on their rival player's talents.
"Sloane is a great player, a very tough fighter," Azarenka said after the match. She also denied being ruffled by a body blow from a huge Stephen's forehand in the first set that hit her hard below the waist: "Why would I have a problem with that? That's tennis."
The win annointed Azarenka as the firm favorite to win the title after No. 3 Maria Sharapova joined No. 1 Serena Williams on the fourth-round casualty list.
It also renewed the focus on her boyfriend, known for his wild hair and wilder music. Redfoo, the LMFAO frontman, had been a regular fixture at Azarenka's matches, usually cheering her on in a T-shirt that says, "Team Vika."
During her on-court interview, Azarenka spoke about how the two spent the run-up to the tournament in Sydney, where Redfoo served as a judge on "The X Factor Australia," a reality show and music competition.
Rennae Stubbs, a former player who does on-court interviews for the host broadcaster, joked that Azarenka and Redfoo should buy a home in Australia.
"That's what Redfoo was saying, we should get a house here," Azarenka told the crowd, laughing when Stubbs then lifted the 24-year-old Belarussian's left hand and noted it lacked a ring.
"It better be bigger than Caro's," Azarenka quipped, referring to Caroline Wozniacki's earlier on-court revelation that her new engagement ring from golfer Rory McIlroy weighed a whopping 8 carats.
Azarenka dismissed questions about marriage proposals in her post-match press conference, but continued with comments about wanting a big ring — or in her words "a big, big bling."
One day does she want one bigger than Wozniacki's?
"It better be!" she deadpanned.
Azarenka's next opponent is either No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska or Garbine Muguruza.
For Stephens, who also talks openly about her expensive tastes, the loss marked the exit of the last American from the singles draw.
The rising American star who has excelled on big stages in the past — last year she beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals here — praised Azarenka's aggressive game.
"She's obviously No. 2 in the world," said No. 13-ranked Stephens. "She's just a really tough competitor."