MELBOURNE: Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka followed Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova out of the Australian Open on Wednesday in another big shock that ensures the Grand Slam tournament will have a new women’s champion.
The Belarusian was bundled out in the quarterfinals by Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-0, meaning the top three women’s seeds have all failed spectacularly at the season-opening major.
World number one Williams crashed in the third round and third seed Sharapova slumped in the fourth, in a tournament of upsets that also saw defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic beaten late on Tuesday.
“You can look at it as a lost opportunity. There’s nothing else I can do right now,” said Azarenka, knowing she blew a great chance to become the first woman to claim the title in three consecutive years since Martina Hingis between 1997-99.
“The first set and the third set, I think there was just too many mistakes and too many easy mistakes on important moments. Of course, she was passing amazing today and getting to every ball.”
The cool and collected Rad–wanska was inspired, running down every ball and getting the crowd at Rod Laver Arena on their feet with her blistering groundstrokes.
Her convincing win sets up a clash against 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova, who thrashed Romanian 11th seed Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 to storm into only her second Grand Slam semi-final.
With China’s Li Na, last year’s defeated finalist, facing fast-improving Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard in the other semi on Thursday, the tournament is certain to have a new champion.
The accomplished Radwan–ska, 24, battled hard to make her first semi-final in Melbourne, having reached the quarter-finals four times before without going further.
She never lost focus in moving Azarenka around the court and burying chances when they were presented, rattling the second seed who lost her first sets of the tournament.
It was a major scalp for Radwanska, with the Bela–rusian having won all of their past seven meetings and the Pole previously complaining she was put off by her opponent’s no-toriously loud grunting.
“It is always hard against her. I have lost so many times that [I knew] I had to play aggressive and go for my every shot. That’s what I tried to do and it worked today,” she said.
The short but energetic Cibul–kova drew on her experience to down the aggressive Halep, who went into the clash as favorite after a breakthrough season last year when she won six titles.
The Slovak, who beat Shaparova to get her chance against the Romanian, said her previous experience of playing quarters at the other three Slams gave her a vital edge against Halep, who was in the last four of a major for the first time.
“One hundred percent, I have experience on these important matches and I knew how to react on court and I did everything perfect today,” said Cibulkova, who reaches her first Slam semi since the 2009 French Open.
The Romanian, voted the most improved WTA player last year and who is expected to move into the top 10 in next week’s new rankings, agreed she was overawed by the occasion.
“I had emotions, big emotions, and I couldn’t manage this,” she said. “Before the match I was very nervous and I didn’t feel the ball at all. I couldn’t move my body and I couldn’t play.”