Victoria Azarenka maintained her surge in form while the leading women on the tour are struggling with injuries or inconsistency at the start of the season, reaching the Brisbane International semifinals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over eighth-seeded Roberta Vinci.
The two-time Australian Open champion has dropped just 10 games en route to the semis, where she’ll meet Samantha Crawford, the No. 142-ranked, 20-year-old U.S. qualifier who beat Andrea Pektovic 6-3, 6-0 earlier Thursday.
Azarenka, who was limited to 23 tournaments across the last two seasons due to foot and leg injuries, was was broken once in each set but converted 7 of her 11 breakpoint chances against Vinci, who ended Serena Williams’ bid for a season Grand Slam with an upset semifinal win at the U.S. Open last year.
“I really had to take control in my own hands, because she comes up with some really difficult situations and combinations which keep you on your toes,” said Azarenka, who added that while she didn’t know a lot about Crawford, “Obviously nobody is getting into semifinals by not playing well.”
Fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber, the highest-ranked woman remaining in the Brisbane tournament, advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and will next play No. 6-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro, who held off Varvara Lepchenko 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
On the men’s side, Milos Raonic opened his 2016 season with a 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-4 win over Croatia’s Ivan Dodig and moved into a quarterfinal match against Lucas Pouille, who had an upset 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded David Goffin.
Grigor Dimitrov advanced with a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over Viktor Troicki and will face the winner of the night match between defending champion Roger Federer and German qualifier Tobias Kamke.
At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, third-seeded Caroline Wozniacki moved into the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Alexandra Dalgheru.
“I really hit it well, I went for my shots,” said Wozniacki, who made only eight unforced errors. “I came to the net – I didn’t even know I could volley like that, so I was pleasantly surprised.”
Wozniacki has a 5-0 record against her semifinal opponent, Sloane Stephens. The fifth-seeded American had a 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over qualifier Naomi Broady of Britain.
Earlier, Tamira Paszek beat fellow qualifier Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 in a match that lasted almost three hours.
Paszek’s semifinal opponent will be Julia Goerges, who beat Nao Hibino of Japan 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-4.
At the Hopman Cup in Perth, Ukraine qualified for Saturday’s final with singles wins over the Australia Gold team of Jarmila Wolfe and Lleyton Hewitt.
Wolfe lost her singles to Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 and former No. 1-ranked Hewitt, who will retire after the Australian Open in two weeks, fell 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Alexandr Dogopolov to give Ukraine an insurmountable 2-0 lead. Australia won the mixed doubles 3-6, 7-5, 10-5.
In a night match, Jack Sock and Vicky Duval were to play for the United States against the Czech Republic in a matchup between teams already eliminated. Duval replaced Serena Williams, who has inflammation in her left knee and wants to rest ahead of the Australian Open beginning in 11 days.