Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kerber 'upsets' Azarenka in clash of Stanford champs

Angelique Kerber rips a forehand in her victory over Karolina
Pliskova in the final of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford
last August. Photo by Mal Taam
   Despite being seeded higher, Angelique Kerber was considered a big underdog against Victoria Azarenka today in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
   Kerber was 0-6 against Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion who appeared to have regained her form after battling injuries for two years.
   Only 2 1/2 weeks ago, Azarenka dominated Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in Brisbane to win her first title since August 2013. But that was on a faster court than at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, favoring the 6-foot (1.83-meter) Azarenka over Kerber, a 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter) left-hander.
   In a matchup of reigning and former champions of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, the seventh-seeded Kerber surprised the 14th-seeded Azarenka 6-3, 7-5 to reach her third Grand Slam semifinal but first in Melbourne.
   Kerber trailed 5-2 in the second set and erased five set points.
   "I can't actually describe this in words," Kerber, a 28-year-old German who won the Bank of the West Classic last August and was the runner-up to Serena Williams in 2014, breathlessly told the crowd afterward. "I said to myself, just go for it today and believe that you can beat her.
   "I was playing my game from the first point," added Kerber, who bolted to a 4-0 lead in the opening set. "I was more aggressive this time. She (didn't) lose it; I actually won it."
   Kerber, who saved a match point in the first round against Misaki Doi of Japan, will be a heavy favorite to reach her maiden Grand Slam final when she faces unseeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain for the first time on Wednesday at about 8:30 p.m. PST (ESPN2).
   On the men's side, No. 2 Andy Murray of Great Britain and No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada each won in four sets to set up a semifinal meeting.
   Murray beat No. 8 David Ferrer of Spain 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3, and Raonic topped No. 23 Gael Monfils of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
   Both Murray and Raonic went undefeated in the now-defunct San Jose (Calif.) stop on the ATP World Tour. Raonic won the title three times (2011-13) and Murray two (2006 and 2007).
Even at the beginning of the Australian Open,
14th-seeded Victoria Azarenka was considered
perhaps the biggest threat to Serena Williams.
Kerber took care of that. 2014 photo by
Paul Bauman 
   No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Roger Federer will renew their rivalry in the semifinals on Thursday at 12:30 a.m. (ESPN). The head-to-head series is tied 22-22.
   Even at the beginning of this year's Australian Open, Azarenka was considered perhaps the biggest threat to the top-seeded Williams.
   "Mentally, I didn't commit myself enough today," Azarenka, who won the 2010 Bank of the West Classic, said on ausopen.com. "I didn't push myself into making a difference. I was too flat."
   It now appears that only a collapse by Williams will prevent her from winning a seventh singles title in Melbourne and tying Steffi Graf for second place with 22 Slams (Margaret Court has 24).
   Not that Williams would ever choke. Of course, the calendar-year Grand Slam is not at stake this time (although a loss would prevent that possibility in 2016), nor is the tournament in her home country.
   Williams will meet fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in Wednesday's first semifinal at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2). Williams has lost only one set to Radwanska in eight career matches.
   Both Williams and Radwanska have had success in the Bank of the West Classic. Williams won the title in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Radwanska was the runner-up to Dominika Cibulkova in 2013.
   Konta, a 24-year-old Sydney native ranked 47th, eliminated qualifier Zhang Shuai of China 6-4, 6-1 to become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Jo Durie in 1983.
   Konta lost in the first round of qualifying in last year's Australian Open and was 0-2 this year when she arrived in Melbourne.
   Zhang, who turned 27 on Thursday, had been 0-14 in Grand Slam tournaments before she stunned No. 2 seed Simona Halep in the opening round of the Australian Open.
   Halep revealed on Sunday that she has been struggling with nose, ear and stomach infections. She said she will have nose surgery and be out of action until March.
   Halep is the reigning champion in the BNP Paribas Open, scheduled for March 7-20 at Indian Wells.
   In the mixed doubles quarterfinals in Melbourne, unseeded CoCo Vandeweghe of Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area and Horia Tecau of Romania edged second-seeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands of Phoenix and Bob Bryan of Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., 6-3, 6-7 (5) [10-6].
   Vandeweghe was the runner-up to Williams in the 2012 Bank of the West Classic. Bryan attended Stanford in 1997 and 1998, helping the Cardinal win the NCAA team title each year.

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