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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Azarenka giddy after advancing

By Melissa Isaacson
espnW.com

NEW YORK -- The squeal emitted by Victoria Azarenka as the ball sailed cross court and past her outstretched racket was just a little louder, just a little higher-pitched than her normal shrieks, a show of frustration that has not been unfamiliar to the No. 2 seed during this US Open.

Desperately, you sensed, Azarenka wanted to get off the court Wednesday night against 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova and maybe even back to a practice court to sharpen up skills she is bound to need as she advances ever closer to a possible finals rematch with defending champion Serena Williams.

But a minute later, Azarenka was dancing to the strains of the on-court music, claiming all was swell after a 6-2, 6-3 victory, but no doubt relieved to secure a semifinal berth Friday, when she will play unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta.

Daniela Hantuchova
Daniela Hantuchovas body language said it all after being defeated in straight sets Wednesday.

Giggling in her post-match interviews, Azarenka -- whose boyfriend, singer Redfoo, is the son of music legend Berry Gordy -- spoke of her newfound love of Motown, of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, old-school music that belie the age of the 24-year-old from Belarus.

"I'm a baby, what can I say?" Azarenka said.

Indeed, she seems like a child in a semifinal field that includes three 31-year-olds in Pennetta, Williams and Li Na.

But, as Azarenka pointed out, she has been on tour since age 16, the winner of two Grand Slam titles and a wily veteran at the US Open, where she is 12-1 over the past two years. It is that experience that got her through another less-than-stellar performance Wednesday night.

Despite the uneven play, Azarenka defeated Hantuchova in 1 hour, 16 minutes, wrapping up the first set with 10 straight points after two straight three-setters in which she dropped the opening set. And it's hard to argue with her results.

Since losing to Williams in a gripping three-set final here last year, Azarenka is 38-1 on outdoor hard courts.

"It was a better start for sure," Azarenka said. "It was a little bit tricky out there with the wind, and Daniela is a player who doesn't give you too much rhythm. You really have to make it happen in one or two shots in the beginning, so that's what I was trying to do.

"There weren't many long rallies, so that's [why] sometimes it's more difficult to get into the match. But I felt like I was really good on the important moments. In the first set towards the end, I really raised my level where I wanted to, and that was, I think, the key to the match."

Azarenka had to dig deeper again late in the match, after Hantuchova broke her serve to pull to within 5-3. But Azarenka broke back, closing the match in a little more decisive fashion.

Azarenka has beaten Williams twice this year, as late as Cincinnati last month, but first she must face 83rd-ranked Pennetta, playing in her first Open semifinal and against whom Azarenka is 1-1 (the loss in Dubai, in 2011) with a walkover in favor of Pennetta in Wimbledon.

"That match was a bad memory there," Azarenka said of Dubai. "But I think it's going to be different. We played the match a long time ago, but we did practice quite a few times. ... Flavia is such an amazing person. To see her go through injuries and coming up with the best results she has right now, it's really amazing.

"She's very good player, [an] all-around player. She can do anything. She has a great touch, great variety; she can create power, create spin. I'm really looking forward to that match. It's a big challenge."