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Victoria Azarenka's key shot is drop-dead gorgeous at U.S. Open

A lovely, and risky, drop shot in third-set tiebreaker lifts top-seeded Azarenka to a 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5) win over defending champion Samantha Stosur on rainy day.

September 04, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Victoria Azarenka returns a shot during her victory over Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Tuesday.
Victoria Azarenka returns a shot during her victory over Samantha Stosur… (Clive Brunskill / Getty…)

NEW YORK — Victoria Azarenka put a sunny spin on a gloomy, rainy, sodden day at the U.S. Open.

Azarenka, the top-seeded woman in the tournament and the top-ranked player in the world, brazenly pulled off a dangerous drop shot at a key moment in a final-set tiebreaker and sent off popular defending champion Samantha Stosur, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5), Tuesday.

Rain interrupted Azarenka's quarterfinal victory and it also interrupted most of the rest of the day's sessions.

Fourth-seeded David Ferrer sneaked in a fourth-round victory, 7-5, 7-6 (2) 6-4 over Richard Gasquet of France, but rain left the other players stranded, most notably Andy Roddick.

Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, had announced last week that he will retire after he finishes this tournament. Roddick, seeded 20th, and 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro were in a first-set tiebreaker when play was suspended for the final time. Roddick and Del Potro were tied at 6-6 in the first set and Roddick won the first point of the tiebreaker when rain returned and everyone was sent home.

Third-seeded Maria Sharapova may have been saved by the bad weather for a second straight match. Sharapova trailed 11th-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, 4-0, 15-30, when an earlier storm arrived and a decision was made to let Sharapova and Bartoli go home until Wednesday.

Sharapova was trailing Nadia Petrova, 2-0, in a third set Sunday when rain interrupted the match. Sharapova roared back to win after that unplanned interruption.

When it was bright enough to play tennis, Stosur, who won the title here a year ago with a thorough beating of Serena Williams in the final, appeared primed for a serious title defense in the final set.

But whenever it seemed as if Stosur might pull off another big upset, Azarenka earned momentum. Azarenka hit her only ace to save a break point in the final set and sweetly executed the drop shot to earn the one and only match point she would need.

The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium was firmly on the side of Stosur, who makes most of her noise with her tennis strokes — unlike Azarenka, who shrieks and howls on every point and almost drowned out the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!" chants that seemed to propel Stosur each time she fell behind in the 2-hour 23-minute match.

Stosur's final comeback was fierce. She fell behind in the tiebreaker, 4-0, before fighting to pull even at 5-5 with a monstrous overhead.

But it was on the next point when Azarenka went bold. After a forehand from Stosur skipped off the net cord and across the court, Azarenka rushed forward and produced the dainty drop shot for a 6-5 lead. After a big serve followed by a big forehand from Azarenka, Stosur could only fly a backhand long.

Azarenka said that right before she hit her only ace, she mentally lectured herself, "Don't be a chicken."

Her fabulous drop shot? That was just instinct.

"I was just trying to stay in the moment," Azarenka said. "At this moment you have to come up with something different, not the usual what you would do."

Stosur was not displeased with her effort, especially her comeback from the 4-0 deficit in the tiebreaker.

"There was momentum here, momentum there," she said. "We were hitting winners and running all over the court."

But Stosur couldn't run fast enough or far enough to track down Azarenka's final forehand. Now Azarenka, who is 11-0 in three-set matches this season, is into the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time in her career.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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