Saturday, May 7, 2011
Azarenka close to Belarusian tennis history. Kvitova storms into top 10.
Azarenka hadn't lost a set to Safarova in five meetings, and although she would lose one this time it was all the ground she was willing to give, as she won four straight games from 2-all in the third set to craft a 6-3 3-6 6-2 victory.
It has been an incredible two months for Azarenka, winning 18 of 20 matches. She won titles in Miami and Marbella and the only losses came via retirement - in the Indian Wells quarterfinals (a hip injury against Caroline Wozniacki) and in her first match in Stuttgart (a shoulder injury against Julia Goerges).
If the 21-year-old Azarenka is able to reach the final here, she will rise from No.5 to No.4 when the new rankings come out, making her the highest-ranked Belarusian player in WTA history - Natasha Zvereva was No.5 in the world.
Standing in the way of Azarenka and national history will be Goerges, who won an all-unseeded quarterfinal against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4 6-2. They both pulled off big upsets a round before, Goerges beating No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki and Pavlyuchenkova No.5 seed Sam Stosur; but it was Goerges who backed it up, firing six aces and saving all six break points against her.
Only a month ago, Goerges reached her first Premier quarterfinal in Charleston; now she is into her second straight Premier semi, having won Stuttgart and now this. "I'm still a long way to becoming a Top 10 player. It's never easy and you have to work for it. I just want to focus on being solid and consistent."
"Julia has been playing great tennis against top players recently," Azarenka said of the German. "I need to stay focused and take my chances."
The only previous match Azarenka and Goerges played came in Stuttgart a few weeks ago. Azarenka led, 5-2, and eventually won the first set, 6-4, before a right shoulder injury made it too tough for her to continue the match.
Kvitova, ranked No.18, survived No.28-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in a two-hour, 14-minute war, coming back from a set and a break down to push it to a third set then holding off her determined opponent to make the semis, 3-6 6-3 7-5.
Twice in the third set Kvitova was up a break and got broken back, but in the end she broke again for 6-5 then served it out, finishing it with an ace on match point. Cibulkova actually won more points in the match, 94 to 92.
"It was tough to play Dominika because we are good friends," Kvitova said after the match. "We'll be playing doubles at Roland Garros together."
Kvitova will rise to No.10 on next week's rankings, her Top 10 debut. She will be the sixth Czech ever to grace that elite, following Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Helena Sukova, Jana Novotna and Nicole Vaidisova.
Awaiting Kvitova in the semifinals will be No.6 seed Li Na, who also won a marathon quarterfinal match, taking out Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-4 3-6 6-4. Mattek-Sands, who had beaten No.15 seed Ana Ivanovic and No.3 seed Francesca Schiavone en route to the quarters, was up a break twice in the third but Li broke back in the next game each time; the Chinese ended up winning the last 10 points of the match from 3-4, 30-all to finish it off.
World No.6 Li is the highest-ranked Chinese player of all time, in fact China's only Top 10 player in WTA history. If she wins this title she could raise the bar even higher - she would rise to No.5 in the world on the new rankings.
Li and Kvitova will be playing against each other for the first time.