Maria Sharapova returns a shot during her fourth-round victory over Roberta… (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images )
While the majority of attention in pro tennis is devoted to the top men's trio of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, there is close competition for the top spot on the women's side, too.
Tuesday in Indian Wells, No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 2 Maria Sharapova of Russia (by way of Bradenton, Fla., and Manhattan Beach, Calif.) advanced to the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open. That brought a rematch of their recent Australian Open final, won by Azarenka, a step closer.
Azarenka had a quick match against Julia Goerges of Germany, winning, 6-3, 6-1, and progressing to her next step, a difficult one against No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. Radwanska won when rising U.S. player Jamie Hampton started cramping in the third set and could not continue.
Sharapova followed Azarenka onto the main stadium court and also made fairly quick work of her opponent, Roberta Vinci of Italy. She won, 6-2, 6-1, and said afterward, in quick summation, "Yeah, played good."
Azarenka remained unbeaten for 2012 in 19 matches, and revealed afterward that she had a special empathy for the dozen or so players who have fallen ill with flulike symptoms here.
"I actually had the illness before the tournament," she said. "It was awful. I guess I'm the lucky one that I only had it before the tournament."
Her match with Radwanska will be their fourth meeting of the year.
"She's a great player, and a very good challenge for anybody," the 22-year-old Azarenka said.
Sharapova's quarterfinal opponent will be fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, who took out another Russian, Nadia Petrova, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, in 2 hours 41 minutes.
"Maria is consistent and gets a lot of balls back," Sharapova said.
The other women's quarterfinalists were to be determined in night matches, with Marion Bartoli of France facing Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic and former No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki going against each other. Wozniacki won at Indian Wells last year.
The main men's matches, outside of those involving Nadal and Federer, included Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro's 6-2, 7-6 (6) victory over always dangerous Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, and unseeded Dennis Istomin's 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 5 Spaniard David Ferrer. Istomin is from Uzbekistan.