Azarenka into semis, Sharapova in limbo
World No 1 Victoria Azarenka advanced to the US Open semifinals for the first time on Tuesday while Russian third seed Maria Sharapova struggled before rain left her match postponed until Wednesday.
Reigning Australian Open champion Azarenka defeated seventh-seeded defending champion Samantha Stosur 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), ensuring the 23-year-old top seed from Belarus will remain atop the world rankings no matter how the Open goes.
"I don't want to stop yet," Azarenka said.
Sharapova was forced to stop, first by rain and then by US Open officials, who ordered the completion of her match pushed to Wednesday when showers struck for the third time on Tuesday with French 11th seed Marion Bartoli leading 4-0.
That left Azarenka to wonder who would be her foe in her first US Open semifinal on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts in the year's final Grand Slam tournament. Azarenka leads Sharapova 5-4 and Bartoli 8-3 in career results.
Wednesday's other quarterfinals will send US fourth seed Serena Williams, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, against Serbian 12th seed Ana Ivanovic and Italian 10th seed Sara Errani against 20th-seeded compatriot Roberta Vinci.
Sharapova, the 2006 US Open champion who completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open title in June, would return to second in the world rankings next week if she defeats Bartoli.
Azarenka, into the US Open last eight for the first time, weathered a 75-minute rain delay in the first set to improve to 6-0 against Stosur, who had been seeking her first title since lifting the New York trophy a year ago.
"She played amazing. The level was so much harder today," Azarenka said. "She made me play my best."
In the final set tie-breaker, Azarenka raced to a 4-0 lead, Stosur fought back to level at 5-5, then Azarenka hit a drop volley winner and Stosur sent a backhand wide to end matters after two hours and 23 minutes.
"It's always going to be disappointing when you lose but I was really pleased with the way I played," Stosur said. "I gave it everything I had."
Azarenka avoided becoming the first US Open women's top seed to crash out before the semis since Dinara Safina's third-round exit in 2009.
No women's top seed has won a Grand Slam title since Williams at Wimbledon in 2010 and no US Open women's top seed has taken the title since Justine Henin in 2007.
It was the first US Open women's match in the last-eight or deeper to go to a third-set tie-breaker since 2007.
"We both showed some excellent tennis," Azarenka said. "You could feel the pressure all the time. We really both gave it all. We fought really hard, making each other run like crazy."
Azarenka said by the end it was a greater mental challenge than physical.
"Physically we were already giving all on every point," she said. "You accept to take that risk or take that challenge. You cannot wait for a mistake. You have to make your opportunities."
Neither player had lost a set in the tournament, but each fell victim to the other to set up a dramatic final set, which featured four breaks of serve in a row from the fourth through seventh games.
Stosur took the last break on back-to-back forehand winners before both held to the tie-breaker.