Inspired Bartoli ends Azarenka's run

Inspired Bartoli ends Azarenka's run

Nadal battles past Tsonga to reach semifinals; Paes-Stepanek progress in doubles

World number one Victoria Azarenka's 26-match winning streak finally came to an end on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat to France's Marion Bartoli at the Sony Ericsson Open.

I’ve done iT! Marion Bartoli of France celebrates her win over Belarussian Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday. Reuters

Seventh-seed Bartoli moves into the semifinals where she will face Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat Venus Williams 6-4, 6-1.

Azarenka's winning streak was the best start to a WTA Tour season since Martina Hingis won 37 in a row in 1997.

The Belarusian's impressive run included wins in her last four tournaments, Sydney, the Australian Open, Doha and Indian Wells, but it was clear the run had taken a toll. Bartoli played with aggression from the outset to take the game to Azarenka, who appeared short of inspiration and heavy on her feet.

"Physically I was just not able to do anything today. It was just not possible. You know, I'm a human, not a super woman. I wish I could be but I'm not," she said. "But Marion really played really well today, and she deserves the win. What else can I say?"

The Frenchwoman produced a superb cross-court return to break and go 4-3 up in the second set, the decisive blow which finished off Azarenka's resistance.

"I just went out on the court full of belief in myself," said a delighted Bartoli, who raised her arms aloft in delight at beating the top seed. "I'm working extremely hard, and I'm just happy that everything is paying off right now," she added.

Williams, playing in her first singles tournament since her shock withdrawal from last September's US Open with Sjogren's Syndrome, said her late-night match against Ana Ivanovic on Monday had affected her.

Nadal stretched

In the men’s event, world number two Rafa Nadal was pushed all the way by France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before finally emerging with a 6-2 5-7 6-4 victory to earn a place in the semifinals. Nadal next faces fourth-seeded Briton Andy Murray, who rallied for a 4-6 6-3 6-4 win over Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.

After winning his first set comfortably, Nadal was within two points of victory in the second but then the towering Tsonga began his brave resistance. Tsonga broke, helped along by an untimely double-fault from Nadal, and then claimed the set with a magnificent forehand return winner.

The third set produced some highly entertaining tennis and the Frenchman combined explosive shots, deft slices and glorious backhand work around the net to stay in touch with the Spaniard.
Tsonga came close to breaking in the sixth game but Nadal held his nerve and for all the ebbs and flows of what had become a real battle, the pair remained on serve until the ninth game
Nadal made the decisive break when Tsonga failed to keep a cross-court forehand in play and although the Frenchman staved off matchpoints, the second seed claimed the two hour, 49 minute contest when his opponent dumped another forehand into the net.

Murray also suffered a scare as the world number four trailed by a set and a break before receiving medical attention for what appeared to be a stomach problem. The Scot then promptly turned the match around as he broke ninth seed Tipsarevic in the next game and went on to clinch the second set.

Struggling with his backhand throughout, Murray racked up 34 unforced errors but was able to break in the third game of the final set and held firm with his serve to ensure a last-four showdown against Nadal. Murray said after the game that his health problem was almost certainly related to over-hydrating before the game.

Paes-Stepanek win

Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek fought their way to the semifinals of the doubles event with a 7-6(6) 6-4 win over Spaniards David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco.  They will next play Americans Mike and Bob Bryan.

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