Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens led the charge into the Miami Open semifinals on Tuesday after straight-set wins on Key Biscayne.
The wildcard Azarenka dismissed another former No. 1, No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-3, and the No. 13-seeded Stephens continued to thrive in front of her home Florida crowd, blowing past former No. 1 and No. 10 seed Angie Kerber 6-1, 6-2.
“It feels really good,” said Azarenka after handling the blustery conditions. “Before the match I said it was going to be a great test for me to see where my game is at. I think it gives myself a lot of positive things to continue to work on. And seeing the progress that I made throughout this whole tournament, playing first round to playing a Top 5 player, I made a pretty good gap of improvement. So I want to continue to go down this path.”
Azarenka crushed the Pliskova second serve, keeping the Czech from winning a second serve point until the seventh game. Pliskova was up a break in the second but was undone by one of her seven double faults during the match-up.
The former No. 1 Azarenka has won the Miami Open every time she has advanced to the semifinals, but she will have her hands full against the once-again confident Stephens, who has put on two powerful displays the last two rounds in taking out former No. 1s Garbine Muguruza and Kerber.
“When you play a player like Angie…you have to execute your game well,” said Stephens, who hit 11 winners in the 23-minute first set, and on Monday will debut in the Top 10 for the first time on the WTA rankings. “And then you have to make sure that when you are executing your game you stick with it. Like a lot of times you can venture off and start, you know, doing other things.”
Kerber was coming off an almost three-hour win over qualifier Wang Yafan less than 24 hours earlier.
“I was really feeling a little bit tired today,” Kerber said. “I mean, of course it was windy, it was tricky, but I have played so many matches in the last three months that I was feeling it a little bit today in my body…I was always one step too far away from the balls, and then I make the mistakes.”
Quarterfinal matches on Wednesday at the Miami Open are No. 6 Jelena Ostapenko vs. No. 4 Elina Svitolina, and No. 8 Venus Williams vs. fellow American and qualifier Danielle Collins.
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