Australian Open 2014: Victoria Azarenka becomes latest big name player to crash out in Melbourne

The defending champion was beaten by Agnieszka Radwanska

Melbourne Park

They survived the scorching temperatures of the first week of the Australian Open, but the heat of competition in the second week has taken its toll on the top players. Victoria Azarenka followed Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova out of the year’s opening Grand Slam event when she was beaten here today by Agnieszka Radwanska, meaning that the semi-final line-up will feature none of the top three seeds for the first time since 1997.

Radwanska, runner-up at Wimbledon two years ago, had lost all seven of her meetings with Azarenka since the start of 2012 but played some inspired tennis to end the world No 2’s 18-match winning streak on these courts. The 2012 and 2013 champion was outsmarted as Radwanska triumphed 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 to end her own run of three successive quarter-final defeats at Melbourne Park.

“I’m so happy and pleased, especially after beating one of the best players in the world,” the world No 5 said afterwards. “I just had to play my best tennis, play aggressively and go for every shot.”

Li Na, the runner-up here in 2011 and 2013, will be the highest-ranked player in tomorrow’s semi-finals. The world No 4, who is the only player left in the women’s competition with a Grand slam title to her name, will take on Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, while Radwanska will face Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, who brushed aside the Romanian Simona Halep, winning 6-3, 6-0.

Radwanska, a creative player who makes up for her lack of power with the imagination of her game,  appeared to be falling behind her big-hitting  rivals last year, but today’s sparkling display was a reminder that the modern game need not be dominated by pure power.

 

Azarenka would no doubt have preferred a slugging contest from the baseline, but Radwanska kept pulling the 24-year-old from Belarus into the net with her slices and drop shots before delivering the coup de grace with a lob or a passing shot.

“I was trying to mix everything up and go down the lines as much as possible, just make her run,” Radwanska said. “She’s a very consistent player.  She’s pretty much getting everything back. Of course I played drop shots and lobs.  I think this is my game, and it was working really well today.”

Radwanska does not have the biggest of serves, but was broken only twice as Azarenka regularly struggled to read where the 24-year-old Pole was going to place the ball. Azarenka, meanwhile, dropped serve six times and made 47 unforced errors as she tried in vain to up the pace.

“I really had nothing to lose,” Radwanska said afterwards.  “She was defending the title, not me.  I was really trying to play my best tennis, go for every shot I could.”

Azarenka, who won only 14 points in the third set, thought she had not been at her best but said Radwanska had been “amazing”. Azarenka added: “She was aggressive. She was making everything. She was guessing right. I was just playing a little bit too predictably.”

At 5ft 3in Cibulkova is one of the shortest players in the women’s game, but the 24-year-old Slovakian hits the ball with deceptive power and was much too good for Halep, who has made great strides in the last year.

Cibulkova reached the semi-finals of the French Open five years ago and has also made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Her experience of playing on the bigger stages stood her in good stead against Halep, who never got her game going.

“Simona runs a lot and gets a lot of balls back,” Cibulkova said.  “I knew I had to be aggressive, but sometimes it's not easy because sometimes when you go for too much, you make too many mistakes.  I knew I had to step into the court and play a lot to her weaknesses, use my backhand down the line that she was not expecting.”

Halep admitted that the emotions of the day had got to her. “Before the match I was very nervous,” she said. “I couldn't move my body and I couldn't play.  It feels like I didn't prepare very well and my mind was very down before the match.”

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