Li joins Azarenka and Sharapova in Beijing


Li Na joined top seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in the last eight of the China Open on Thursday but there was a shock in the men’s draw with Richard Gasquet losing to a Chinese wild card. China’s Li, who is banking on a good week to help her qualify for the $4.9 million season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul, needed three sets and a tie break to overcome compatriot Peng Shuai. The former French Open champion finally won 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) after almost two hours and 30 minutes.
Asia’s only Grand Slam winner will play defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals of the Beijing tournament. World number one and first seed Azarenka dispatched Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-3 to set up a quarter-final tie with Switzerland’s Romina Oprandi. The 23-year-old from Belarus has yet to drop a set in the tournament, defeating France’s Alize Cornet 6-1, 6-0 in the first round and Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-4, 6-2 in the second. “It was a little bit of a challenge today, for sure,” Azarenka said. “I felt like I could have been a bit more aggressive and not hesitate so much.
“When I won that last point, I was relieved and happy to finish the match in two sets.” Second-seed Sharapova, number two in the WTA rankings behind Azarenka, defeated Slovenian qualifier Polona Hercog, ranked 90th in the world, 6-0, 6-2 at the capital’s National Tennis Stadium. Sharapova, 25, had beaten Romania’s Simona Halep 7-5, 7-5 in the first round and Sorana Cirstea, also of Romania, 6-2, 6-2 in round two. “I had a long first round, even though it was two sets, but today and yesterday was definitely a little bit quicker,” Sharapova said. “I played really well in the beginning and got a little tense in the second set, but I felt like I really needed that challenge. “It’s nice to be in the quarter-final stage of this tournament.” Sharapova will face her first real test of the Premier Mandatory event in the next round when she takes on fifth seed Angelique Kerber of Germany.
Kerber, ranked sixth in the world, defeated former world number one Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. The China Open is the fourth and final compulsory tournament of the women’s calendar, behind only the Grand Slams and end-of-season Championships in prestige. Kerber’s win came shortly after she discovered she had qualified for the Championships later this month, along with Czech Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani of Italy. The three will compete with Azarenka, Sharapova, Radwanska and Serena Williams, leaving only one place in the race up for grabs. That position is currently held by Li.
In the men’s section, fifth-seed Gasquet of France suffered a second-round loss to lowly-ranked Zhang Ze in three sets. Zhang defeated last week’s Thailand Open winner 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to record the biggest victory of his career.
Gasquet admitted afterwards that his exploits in Bangkok had left him tired but said Zhang, ranked 165th, had been the better player and deserved his victory. “Last week I played a big tournament. I’m not physically 100 percent, but it’s not the reason I lost,” world number 11 Gasquet said.