NEW YORK—The hoodie and headphones Victoria Azarenka wears to warm up for matches make her look like a college kid bopping across campus. Bouncing around the blue court tonight, Azarenka plugged in the power and muted Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-3, to high-step her way into the U.S. Open final four.
Controlling the cross-court rallies for much of the match, Azarenka raised her 2013 hard-court record to a WTA-best 30-1 in advancing to her sixth semifinal in her last eight Grand Slam appearances.
It began with three straight breaks before Azarenka imposed order, navigating a deuce game to hold for 3-1. Because she hits heavier shots with more spin, Azarenka has access to angles the flatter-hitting Hantuchova can’t create. The 2012 finalist, who began to hit the corners and stretch the slower Hantuchova, bent low for a fine forehand volley winner to hold for 3-2, igniting a run of 10 consecutive points.
The second-ranked Belarusian soon concluded a 13-shot rally with a cross-court backhand winner to break again for 5-2. One game later, Azarenka ran down a drop shot and flicked an angled forehand to take the 31-minute opener. The 48th-ranked Hantuchova hit 15 aces in her fourth-round win, but Azarenka ravaged her second serve tonight, winning eight of nine points played on the Slovak’s second delivery in the opening set.
Recharging, Hantuchova held at love, hit a slick backhand swing volley winner for a second break point, and broke for a 2-0 second-set edge when Azarenka dumped a double fault into net. It was a short-lived lead. On this night, she struggled to gain traction in cross-court exchanges and tried squeezing down-the-line drives over the high part of the net, playing closer to the sidelines—a tricky task on a windy evening.
Azarenka’s disdain for the veteran’s second serve got in Hantuchova’s head. She scattered successive double faults deep to donate the break and a 3-2 lead. Azarenka was sharp at net, winning 12 of 13 points in the front court—and on break points, converting seven of 11 break-point chances. Her lone misstep came when she served for the match and blinked, double-faulting to drop to 3-5. But she shook it off, breaking right back to close the victory in 76 minutes.
In her post-match interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver, Azarenka, whose boyfriend Redfoo is the son of Motown founder Berry Gordy, said she warmed up for the match listening to Marvin Gaye. On cue, the sound system played the soul singer’s classic “Got To Give It Up.”
Though she hasn’t yet hit her high note yet in this tournament, Azarenka advanced comfortably tonight and knows she’ll need to turn it up when she faces veteran Flavia Pennetta for a spot in the final. They’ve split two prior meetings, with Pennetta posting a 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 victory in their lone hard-court clash in Dubai two years ago.
IBM Stat of the Match: Azarenka's return was the key stroke: She won 17 of 22 points played on Hantuchova's second serve and converted seven of 11 break points.
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