Azarenka and Kerber through to China Open quarterfinals

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On Thursday at the China Open 2012, world number one Victoria Azarenka faced 78th-ranked Elena Vesnina for a place in the quarterrrrrfinals. Azarenka had not lost a set in the tournament thus far, and was aiming for a third victory over the Russian in as many meetings.

In spite of her solid results in Beijing, Azarenka has been struggling with her serve, and suffered five double faults in the first set. Fortunately for the Belarusian, she was able to save the only break point against her, and a single break of Vesnina’s serve was enough to take the set 6-3.

The second set saw more double faults, four for each player, as well as four breaks of serve. After taking a 2-0 lead, Azarenka was broken for the first time in the match. She managed to break Vesnina again, however, and after a tough final game that contained six deuces, the top seed took the set 6-3.

In the last eight, Azarenka will take on surprise quarter-finalist Romina Oprandi. The 26-year-old Swiss upset Ana Ivanovic in her third round match, but will face a much sterner test as she attempts to stop Azarenka from reaching her 10th semi-final of the year.

In the other half of the draw, one of the stand-out third round matches pitted fifth seed Angelique Kerber against Caroline Wozniacki. The pair had met twice this year, with the German winning both in straight sets, but Wozniacki’s form has improved of late and she entered today’s contest determined to boost her chances of qualifying for the end-of-year championships in Istanbul.

Kerber began the match impressively, breaking Wozniacki’s serve in the opening game. Although the Dane broke back immediately, an ill-timed double fault allowed Kerber to break once again. Wozniacki had her chances in the next game, but Kerber held firm to maintain her lead, and eventually took the set 6-1.

In the second set, Wozniacki round her range with her backhand, and also used her forehand – her weaker wing – to greater effect. Moving Kerber around the court and forcing errors, Wozniacki broke twice to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Her serve was now becoming a weapon; she used kick serves and body serves to jam Kerber, and also hit three aces. The 10th seed held impressively in the eighth game of the second set to take it 6-2.

The stage was set for a tight deciding set, and it did not disappoint. For the first time in the match, both players were at their best at the same time. Wozniacki’s superb defence kept her in many long rallies, while Kerber, who has often struggled against players who do not hit with a lot of pace, managed to keep her groundstrokes potent.

In contrast to the previous sets, both players held serve convincingly throughout the decider. With Wozniacki serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Kerber adopted an aggressive approach, hitting backhand and volley winners to set up a break point and set point. After a brief rally, Wozniacki’s backhand went wide, and the German sealed victory in one hour, 47 minutes.

Kerber will take on Maria Sharapova in Friday’s quarter-final, a match sure to excite the boisterous crowd in the National Tennis Stadium.

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