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TENNIS / AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Serena Williams wins when ailing opponent quits

Williams advances to quarterfinals, despite struggling with her serve and losing the first set, after Victoria Azarenka of Belarus has to retire during second set because of stomach ailment.

January 26, 2009|Diane Pucin

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Serena Williams went searching for her first serve, once with a tirade so X-rated that she earned a warning from the chair umpire.

Victoria Azarenka went searching for the shade until she wobbled and almost toppled over and finally, as she was sobbing into her hands, had to quit, held up on each side as she left Rod Laver Arena.

Williams, seeded No. 2, had nothing to brag about after her 3-6, 4-2 (ret.) fourth-round win over the 13th-seeded Azarenka.

At the end of the first set, having placed only 56% of her first serves in the box, Williams screamed at herself, using a word that caused a gasp from the crowd.

But even in the early going -- when Azarenka, a 19-year-old from Belarus who wore a ruffled blue skirt that didn't seem to fit with her bombastic groundstrokes, was pushing Williams around the court -- she was always looking for a place out of the sun.

After Azarenka held serve to stay only one break down at 2-3 in the second set, both players took injury timeouts. Azarenka left the court and Williams retaped both ankles.

When the match restarted Azarenka was clearly in distress. She was coughing and seemed close to fainting. Her illness was a mild case of gastroenteritis, according to tournament officials. In other words, an upset stomach.

Williams will play eighth-seeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also advanced after her opponent, Zheng Jie of China, retired. Zheng suffered a wrist injury with Kuznetsova leading, 4-1, in the first set.

Also advancing into the quarterfinals was fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva, who defeated 18th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-2. Dementieva will meet fast-rising Carla Suarez-Navarro, the 20-year-old Spaniard who had upset Venus Williams last week.

It wasn't only the women who couldn't finish matches today. Gilles Simon, seeded sixth, benefited when fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils walked away in the fourth set because of a wrist injury. Simon was leading, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 30-0, when Monfils shook his head and walked off.

That exit wasn't as dramatic as Azarenka's. The crowd began murmuring as she began suffering. "Don't go on," someone shouted. "Stop, Victoria," said another.

When Azarenka finally walked off, Williams put her arm around her and whispered in her ear.

As is routine, the winner was asked to do an on-court interview, something that was clearly uncomfortable for Williams.

"I just want to go inside and make sure she's OK," Williams said. "I feel so bad because she was playing so well. But she totally did the right thing, she can't risk it."

Williams went to the practice court after the match.

"I wanted to hit," she said. "I was clearly disappointed in my serve and I wanted to work on that a little bit. I felt I needed the extra workout."

She also said Azarenka's distress was scary.

"I was really worried," Williams said. "I didn't want the poor girl to fall down."

Azarenka said she had come to the court feeling ill.

"I woke up at 6 a.m. and I was vomiting," she said. "It's very disappointing to me because I played well, but I couldn't handle any more."

Later in the day, Rafael Nadal, the top-seeded man, rolled past Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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