Exhausted Azarenka suffers first loss of the season

Victoria Azarenka’s 26-match unbeaten streak across the first three months of the year was ended by Marion Bartoli,who beat the world No. 1 in straight sets 6-3 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open

Written by Agencies | Florida | Published: March 30, 2012 12:06 am

Victoria Azarenka’s 26-match unbeaten streak across the first three months of the year was ended by Marion Bartoli,who beat the world No. 1 in straight sets 6-3 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Azarenka’s streak,which included her Australian Open title,was the best on the women’s tour since Martina Hingis went 37-0 to begin 1997. Bartoli’s semi-final opponent on Thursday will be Agnieszka Radwanska,who beat a tired Venus Williams 6-4 6-1.

Azarenka’s unreliable serve and mistakes from the baseline doomed her against Bartoli. “I’m a human,not a superwoman,and I wish I could be,but I’m not,’’ Azarenka said with a smile. “I feel disappointed,sure. Who wouldn’t be after the loss? But what I’ve done in the last couple of months,I have to be really proud of myself.’’

Bartoli took charge of rallies by playing inside the baseline. “Sometimes I took the ball extremely early,’’ she said. “It was almost table tennis.’’ Seeded No. 7,Bartoli advanced to the semifinals here for the second time in three years.

The other semi-final will be between Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova,a thrice runner-up. Williams was weary after three consecutive three-set matches in her comeback tournament. It was her first tournament since the US Open last August.

“It was disappointing not to be able to feel my best today,’’ Williams said. “I was able to keep it close in the first set and try different strategies,but it was definitely a mental battle,and today I didn’t conquer it. It has been a great tournament,’’ she said. “I’m disappointed and would have liked to have gone further,but it’s a great start.’’

Eager to keep points short,Williams charged the net often but frequently had to lunge for shots. She committed 38 unforced errors to 10 for Radwanska,and won only five of 26 points on her second serve. Radwanska,ranked a career-best No. 4,is 0-4 this year against Azarenka and 24-0 against everyone else.

Nadal pushed hard by Tsonga

In the men’s draw,world No. 2 Rafa Nadal was pushed all the way by France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before finally emerging a 6-2 5-7 6-4 winner and earn a place in the semi-finals. Nadal next faces fourth-seeded Briton Andy Murray,who rallied for a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win over Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.

After winning his first set comfortably,Nadal was within two points of victory in the second before the towering Tsonga began his resistance. Tsonga broke,helped along by an untimely double-fault from Nadal,and then claimed the set with a magnificent forehand return winner. The third set produced entertaining tennis and the Frenchman combined explosive shots,deft slices and glorious backhand work around the net to stay in touch with the Spaniard.

Murray also suffered a scare as the world number four trailed by a set and a break before receiving medical attention for what appeared to be a stomach problem. The Scot then promptly turned the match around as he broke ninth seed Tipsarevic in the next game and went on to clinch the second set.

Paes-Stepanek in semis

Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek fought their way to the last four in the men’s doubles with a 7-6(6) 6-4 win over Spaniards David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco. The seventh seed Indo-Czech pair needed one hour and 27 minutes to win. The victory means that Paes and Stepanek are on course for a title clash with India’s Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.

Paes and Stepanek are up against top seeded Americans Mike and Bob Bryan. Paes-Stepanek saved two crucial breakpoints in the second set and converted one of the two chances to break to secure their passage to the semis.

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