Azarenka, Pennetta march on

NEW YORK -- At 24 years young, Victoria Azarenka can claim something very few of the more experienced players can.

She has a formula for beating Serena Williams.

By topping Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals Wednesday, second-seeded Azarenka moved a win away from a possible showdown with Williams in the US Open final. She also became the only woman under the age of 30 to make the final four at Flushing Meadows.

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

Azarenka is one of only three women to beat top-seeded Williams this year and is the only woman to beat her twice in 2013. The last win came last month in the final of a tuneup tournament in Cincinnati.

Williams won the title here last year with a three-set win against the two-time Australian Open champion from Belarus.

Does Azarenka think about a possible rematch with Williams?

"No," she said.

Ever bother watching her matches on TV?

"Sometimes I watch but I don't really watch a lot of TV," Azarenka said. "Plus, she played too quick, all the matches."

Similar to Williams' double-bageling of Carla Suarez Navarro the night before, Azarenka's match against 48th-ranked Hantuchova wasn't much of a roadblock.

Returning to the US Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, Hantuchova broke Azarenka's first service game in both sets but gave the breaks back right away both times. She picked up another break to pull within 5-3 in the second set but Azarenka broke back right away to close out the match.

Standing in the way of a Williams-Azarenka final are fifth-seeded Li Na, who plays Williams in Friday's semifinals, and 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta, who goes against Azarenka.

"She's very good player, all-around player," Azarenka said about Pennetta, a 6-4, 6-1 winner against Roberta Vinci earlier Wednesday. "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."

Li, Williams and Pennetta are all 31. Hantuchova is 30, and had she won, this would have been the first Grand Slam women's semifinal of the Open era with all four of the semifinalists in their 30s.

Instead, there are three in their 30s for only the second time (The other: 1994 Wimbledon, with Lori McNeil, Gigi Fernandez and Martina Navratilova), with Azarenka the baby of the bunch.

"I think it's just showing that our sport is taking physical ability to another level," Azarenka said. "You see everybody taking care of their bodies much more, really paying attention to nutrition, fitness, everything. Everybody is working out."

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night's win put Victoria Azarenka one step closer to a potential US Open final appearance against Serena Williams.

Pennetta overcame Vinci in the most important meeting between the Italians over a friendship and rivalry that has lasted more than 20 years.

Blunting Vinci's net attacks, taking away her deft drop shots and preying on her nerves, Pennetta made it to her first Grand Slam semifinal and climbed back to the top of Italy's competitive tennis ladder.

"I know how she plays, she knows everything of me," Pennetta said of her 10th-seeded opponent. "We get in the court, and I think today was more about inside, not about tennis. It was about how you play, how you feel in the court, and how can you handle the situation."

Back in 2009, Pennetta became the first Italian woman to crack the top 10. But she fell out of the spotlight in her country's tennis scene after the emergence of Vinci and Sara Errani, combined with a wrist injury that sidelined her during the end of last season.

Pennetta came into Flushing Meadows ranked 83rd, but will leave with victories against both of Italy's top players.

After her win against Vinci, the Italians met at the net and hugged. Vinci gave Pennetta a kiss on the cheek and told her, "Brava."

"She's someone who, when she wants something, she wants it all costs, which is the right way to be," Vinci said. "It might seem strange to say it, but it's great when a person gets back to this level after an operation. She deserves to be in the semifinals."

Unlike most women in this era of baseline tennis, Vinci attacked the net 34 times. But she won only 18 of those points. She finished with 14 winners and 28 unforced errors. Trailing 5-4 in the first, Vinci saved a pair of set points and had two chances to break, but couldn't convert either. Vinci attacked the net on the last two points of the set, but Pennetta hit shots Vinci couldn't handle both times to close things out.

The second set took only 24 minutes.

In doubles on Wednesday, Venus and Serena Williams overcame two service breaks in the second set to advance to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova.

The Williams sisters, who have combined for 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, will play the defending champion and top-seeded Italian team of Errani and Vinci on Thursday. The Italians beat the sisters in three sets in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

"We learned from the match in Australia,"  said. "Obviously, they play well, they play often. They're a great team, so we're going to learn from that and go for it tomorrow."

The doubles is keeping Serena Williams sharp during her two-day break between Tuesday night's 6-0, 6-0 victory against Navarro in the singles quarterfinals and her meeting with Na on Friday.

The Williams sisters lost only three points on their serve in the first set, but both sisters got broken once in the second. The second break came against Serena when she was trying to serve out the match at 5-4.

The Williams' won the first five points of the tiebreaker, lost the next three, then closed it out two points after that on Serena's service winner.

"I can always blame her if things don't go right," Serena said jokingly in her on-court interview. "She's the older sister so she always takes the blame. I'm never wrong."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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