U.S. teenager Sloane Stephens yesterday reached her first tennis Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, where she’ll play five-time champion Serena Williams for a spot in the final four.
Top seed Victoria Azarenka earlier set up a meeting with two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, while Roger Federer and Andy Murray remained on course for a semifinal meeting with straight-set wins and will next play Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy.
The 29th-seeded Stephens, at 19 the youngest player left in the women’s draw, beat 56th-ranked Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 at Melbourne Park even after having more than twice as many unforced errors as winners. The victory guaranteed that Stephens will break into the top 20 of the women’s rankings after the tournament.
“She brought it full force in the second, third set,” Stephens said in a news conference. “I just had to find a way. Mentally it was pretty tough.”
Williams, the No. 3 seed from the U.S., routed 14th-seeded Maria Kirilenko of Russia 6-2, 6-0 in 57 minutes to open the night session on Rod Laver Arena. Federer then followed by beating 13th-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 to move to his 35th straight major quarterfinal.
Switzerland’s Federer, seeking a record-extending 18th Grand Slam title, made just 12 unforced errors and won the only three breaks of serve in the match against the tournament’s ace and service-speed leader.
“It was pretty cold, maybe it helped me,” Federer said in a court-side interview, when asked how he neutralized the serves of his 6-foot-5 opponent. “I’ve got good reflexes.”
Today at Melbourne Park, former French Open winner Li Na of China plays Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland for a spot in the semifinals, while 2008 champion Maria Sharapova faces fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova. In the men’s draw, and all-Spanish quarterfinal between Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer is followed by defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia against former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Federer will next face 7th-seeded Tsonga, the 2008 runner- up in Melbourne. The Frenchman advanced by defeating a compatriot, No. 9 Richard Gasquet, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
The 31-year-old Williams was clinical in beating Kirilenko, getting 87 percent of her first serves in and almost three quarters of her service returns back in play. She committed just six unforced errors in winning her 20th straight match.
“I definitely have never hit that high of a percentage because I take a lot of chances with my serve,” Williams told reporters after reaching her 35th career Grand Slam singles quarterfinal. “I really want to be able to keep it up.”
Williams defeated Stephens 6-4, 6-3 in Brisbane two weeks ago and said she’s expecting a tough contest.
“I feel like for me it will be another good match and a good opportunity for both of us,” added Williams. “One of us will be in the semifinals, which I think is awesome.”
U.S. Open champion Murray cruised past 14th-seeded Gilles Simon of France, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, in 95 minutes. While Simon beat countryman Gael Monfils in 4 hours, 43 minutes to get to the fourth round, Murray, 25, had spent just 5 1/2 hours on court in total to reach the same stage.
“Obviously no one knew how Gilles would be,” Murray said in a televised courtside interview. “He is one of the best movers on tour and clearly was struggling with his movement today. Grand Slams are so physical these days and it is tough.”
The Scot next faces another Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy, who ousted his third straight seeded opponent with a four-set win against Andreas Seppi, the No. 21 from Italy. Chardy, ranked 36th, scored the biggest upset of the men’s draw with his third- round win against sixth-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina.
“I feel confident,” Chardy said after reaching his first major quarterfinal. “Against Del Potro, I played a very good match. So it was good for my head.”
Women’s No. 1 seed Azarenka dropped just two games in beating Elena Vesnina of Russia after being pushed to three sets by injured American Jamie Hampton in the previous round. The Belarusian, who broke through for her first major title in Melbourne 12 months ago, next faces a player on the comeback trail. Kuznetsova missed the second half of last season because of a knee injury.
“It’s going to be very tough match,” Azarenka said. “I can see Sveta came back much fresher, much stronger. She knows how to handle big stages, big tournaments.”
Kuznetsova, unseeded at a major for the first time since the 2003 French Open, ousted No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in a match lasting 2 hours, 28 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
The 27-year-old Kuznetsova, who won 2009 French Open and 2004 U.S. Open titles and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world, has fallen to No. 75 while recovering from a knee injury that forced her to miss the second half of last season.
“I have nothing to lose, she has all the pressure,” said Kuznetsova, who leads Azarenka 4-3 in career meetings. “I know I’ve got the game to give her some problems.”
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