3rd seed moves to Aussie semis

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia

Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka reached the Australian Open semifinals when she held her nerve despite trouble with her serve in a 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday.

It was only her second win in six Grand Slam quarterfinals. She’s never gone further than the semis, and next meets the winner of today’s later match between No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and defending champion Kim Clijsters.

The 22-year-old Belarusian extended her winning streak this season to 10 matches, including a title at Sydney where she beat Radwanska in the semifinals.

Azarenka had six double-faults and made 38 unforced errors, but overcame her wobbles with some powerful groundstrokes among her 39 winners.

Earlier, it wasn’t just Serena Williams’ serve that was missing. It was her aura, too.

Ekaterina Makarova, the lowest-ranked player left in the draw at No. 56, didn’t seem the least bit frightened of the error-ridden opponent across the net.

The Russian won 6-2, 6-3 — equaling the biggest Grand Slam defeat of Williams’ 17-year career — and will face Maria Sharapova in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Sharapova rallied past Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 before men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic fended off a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

With Hewitt’s loss, Australia’s chances of celebrating a home singles winner were over. American hopes had already evaporated with the defeat of five-time champion Williams — her first in Melbourne since 2008 and earliest since 2006.

“I can’t even describe how I served, to be honest,” said Williams, who finished with seven double-faults and a first-serve percentage of just over 50. “My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty.”

Williams also threw in 37 unforced errors, but Makarova played her part, boldly going for the lines and holding steady in a tight service game while leading 4-3 in the second set. Playing Williams in Beijing in 2009, Makarova said she had been “afraid” of the American in a 6-3, 6-2 loss.

Not this time.

“I really thought that I could beat her,” Makarova said. “Maybe in my head that helped me.”

Williams tried not to blame her left ankle injury from a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago. But she didn’t move well and seemed to have particular difficulty running to her left. She said if it hadn’t been a Grand Slam, she wouldn’t have played at all.

“Usually I play myself into the tournament,” Williams said. “But I don’t have a huge problem with an injury. So this is a completely different situation.”