Agnieszka Radwanska has been in this position before; in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament, and one at which the draw has opened up considerably.
For the first time in 17 years, the top three seeds have all bombed out before the semifinals at Melbourne Park.
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova fell in the fourth round, and Victoria Azarenka followed them out of the event in the quarterfinals, tormented by a magical display of touch and panache from Radwanska that had Wednesday’s Rod Laver Arena crowd on its feet.
Standing now between Radwanska and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup is a pair of final-four novices in Dominika Cibulkova – Thursday’s semifinal opponent – and Eugenie Bouchard, and the brilliant but sometimes brittle Li Na, seeded one spot ahead of her at No.4.
It’s something of a Groundhog Day scenario for the Pole, who just six months ago at Wimbledon found herself the favourite for the title among a quartet of unfancied players only to be pipped by 23rd seed Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals, 9-7 in the third set.
Radwanska refuses to consider the other semifinalists as less worthy title contenders or opponents, despite their lesser tennis resumes.
“I mean, of course, a couple seeded (players) are out. Doesn't mean it's going to be easier and you have a title right away. It means that other players are playing great tennis this week. That's why they beat the top seed players,” she explained.
“Maybe top seeds are players who are more confident, especially in a grand slam, they make much more the semis and the finals. But it's still tough.”
Thankfully, Radwanska has vast reserves of confidence built from a stellar Australian summer, a rich vein of form that gives her the belief that she can overcome those tough battles.
Her form at the Hopman Cup was exemplary in winning all four of her matches, and despite an opening-round loss in Sydney, she carried her Perth form into Melbourne, and is peaking, as the best players so often do, at the business end of the tournament.
Radwanska survived scratchy three-setters against Yulia Putintseva and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – player names associated more with consonants than titles – in the early rounds before ramping up her game in the last 16 to demolish giant-killing Spaniard Garbine Muguruza.
And then came her quarterfinal victory over Azarenka, snapping a seven-match losing streak to the Belarusian and sending the two-time defending champion tumbling out of the tournament in a fit of shrieking, anger and bewilderment.
“I really (had) nothing to lose. She was defending the title, not me. I was really trying to play my best tennis, go for every shot I could,” Radwanska reflected.
“I'm just very happy because I really was playing great tennis … a lot of good rallies definitely, amazing points, and running forward, backwards, side to side for so many times.
“This is for sure one of the greatest matches (I’ve played) at the slam, especially here … I think especially the third set was unbelievable. I really cannot complain about anything.”
In beating Azarenka, another streak was snapped – her three-year run of losing in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Now in her first Australian Open semifinal, Radwanska faces an opponent against whom she has won five of her six career meetings, including a 6-0 6-0 pasting in the final of last year’s Apia International Sydney.
“We played so many matches against each other,” Radwanska said of Cibulkova, whose connection dates back to when they were nine years old competing at junior events in central Europe.
“I saw her matches here. She was really playing great tennis, especially today (in beating Simona Halep).
“Going to try my best, for sure.”
Radwanska will face Cibulkova in the second of the women’s singles semifinals on Thursday afternoon.