Azarenka, Li poised for quarter-final clash


Fourth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Chinese sixth seed Li Na set up a French Open quarter-final showdown on Monday, with both women bidding to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
Azarenka, the top-seeded player left in the women’s draw after Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva were eliminated, defeated unseeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3 on Court Suzanne Lenglen. She will now face Li, who had earlier become the first player from China to reach the Roland Garros quarter-finals with a disjointed 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of 21-year-old Czech ninth seed Petra Kvitova. Having broken Makarova’s serve at the first attempt, Azarenka conceded the break with a double-fault in the next game but then broke again to go 4-2 up when Makarova clipped a forehand into the tramlines.
The Belarusian took the first set with a backhand return winner and there were four breaks of serve apiece in the second set before a long forehand from Makarova handed Azarenka what proved to be the decisive break. Azarenka converted her first match point when Makarova put a forehand beyond the baseline, sending the world number four into the last eight at a Grand Slam for the fourth time in her career. Despite her superior seeding, Azarenka has beaten Li just once in four attempts and has never gone beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam. Li became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open earlier this year, but she had to fight back from 3-0 down in the final set to overcome Kvitova in an error-strewn match.
Li made 19 unforced errors to her opponent’s 33 but said her lack of claycourt pedigree should not prevent her from aiming high. “If I win in the fourth round, what should I say?” asked Li, who has now reached the last eight at all four Grand Slams. “(That) I played bad tennis? I don’t think so. I’ve tried to keep the same level as Melbourne, or even better. “I didn’t like claycourts, but I’m still in the quarter-finals.”
Li was broken in the third game of the opening set when she sent a backhand beyond the baseline and Kvitova then saw off four break points on her own serve to open up a 4-2 advantage. The Chinese player’s erratic groundstrokes prevented her from capitalising on the succession of break point opportunities she procured, and when she double-faulted to gift Kvitova a 5-2 lead, the first set was all but over.
Kvitova continued to frustrate Li in the second set but the Chinese number one finally made a breakthrough by converting her ninth break point of the match with an overhead smash that put her 3-1 ahead. Li broke again before closing out the set but fell 3-0 down in the decider before fighting back to level. The 29-year-old world number seven then broke to go 4-3 up when Kvitova was unable to return a plunging crosscourt forehand and closed out victory on her second match point when Kvitova dragged a tired backhand into the tramlines. Former world number one Maria Sharapova, the seventh seed, meets Polish 13th seed Agnieszka Radwanska later on Monday for the right to face either German 15th seed Andrea Petkovic or Russian number 25 seed Maria Kirilenko.