Azarenka advances to semifinals at Australian Open

Posted Jan. 23, 2012, at 11:58 p.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka reached the Australian Open semifinals when she held her nerve despite trouble with her serve in a 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday.

It was only her second win in six Grand Slam quarterfinals. She’s never gone further than the semis, and next meets the winner of Tuesday’s later match between No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and defending champion Kim Clijsters.

The 22-year-old Belarusian extended her winning streak this season to 10 matches, including a title at Sydney where she beat Radwanska in the semifinals.

“I’m really glad I could stay tough and finish the match,” she said. “I’m just really happy to be in the semifinals to give it all out there.”

Azarenka lost just 12 games in the first four rounds. But she had six double-faults and made 38 unforced errors during her 2-hour match against Radwanska.

The first set featured eight service breaks, and there were 15 overall in the match. Azarenka’s double-fault helped give Radwanska a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker, followed by a wild errant backhand by Azarenka on set point.

But Azarenka, who can attain the No. 1 ranking by the end of the tournament, won the next seven games to move closer to the victory as the temperature increased to 93 at Rod Laver Arena.

Radwanska is now 0-5 in Grand Slam quarterfinals.

Five-time champion Serena Williams is already out of the tournament. Her 17-match winning streak at theAustralian Open ended in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 56-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.

The margin equaled the biggest Grand Slam defeat of Williams’ 17-year career.

Makarova will face three-time major winner Maria Sharapova in an all-Russian quarterfinal.

Sharapova rallied past Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 before defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic fended off a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic last match of the day, winning 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

With Hewitt’s loss, Australia’s chances of celebrating a home singles winner were over. American hopes had already evaporated with the defeat of Williams — her first in Melbourne since 2008 and earliest since 2006.

“I can’t even describe how I served, to be honest,” said Williams, who finished with seven double-faults, including four in one game in the second set. “My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty.”

Williams tried not to blame her left ankle injury from a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago. But she didn’t move well and seemed to have particular difficulty running to her left. She said if it hadn’t been a Grand Slam, she wouldn’t have played at all.

“Usually I play myself into the tournament,” Williams said. “But I don’t have a huge problem with an injury. So this is a completely different situation. Usually it’s easier for me to play myself in because I’m usually physically OK.”

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova opened Monday’s play with a 6-2, 7-6 (2) win over former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic. She’ll next play Sara Errani of Italy, who beat 2010 semifinalist Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-1.

Djokovic had won 23 straight sets at Melbourne Park before he suddenly wobbled against Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam champion who has slipped to No. 181 in the rankings after a series of injuries.

Hewitt, a wild-card entry in his 16th straight Australian Open, rallied from 3-0 down in the third set in front of a raucous home crowd to force a fourth set, but Djokovic gathered his composure.

“I think for two sets and 3-0 I was playing really well and suddenly I stopped moving,” Djokovic said. “He was not making a lot of unforced errors. I made a lot of unforced errors in the third set.”

Next up for Djokovic is fifth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain, who had a surprisingly easy 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win over Richard Gasquet.

Two-time finalist Andy Murray advanced when Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan retired after 49 minutes with a left hip injury while trailing 6-1, 6-1, 1-0. After knocking out the first player from Kazakhstan to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam, Murray’s next opponent will be another history-maker.

Kei Nishikori beat sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to become the first Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open since the Open era began in 1968.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer are back in action Tuesday, hoping to set up a semifinal meeting. Federer plays former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro while Nadal faces Tomas Berdych.

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