Sharapova Stunned by Azarenka; Mauresmo Also Bounced at Kremlin Cup

Posted on October 11, 2007

MOSCOW, Russia - Wednesday was a day of upsets at the Kremlin Cup, as four of the five seeds in action were bundled out. Among the players sent packing was Maria Sharapova, whose season struggles continued as she was ousted in straight sets by talented Belarusian teenager Victoria Azarenka.

Playing Azarenka for the first time, the No.2-seeded Sharapova looked in good shape to cruise, going up 5-3 in the first set and building a 40-0 lead while trying to serve it out. But two consecutive double faults from 40-30 gave the young Azarenka a chance to break back and she did, and the women stayed on serve through a tie-break. Sharapova would squander three more set points - at 6-5, 7-6 and 9-8 in that tie-break - before surrendering the set.

The missed opportunities seemed to haunt Sharapova while Azarenka pounced, breaking twice en route to a 76(9) 62 victory, marking her second career victory against a Top 10 player (she upset Nadia Petrova two weeks ago in Luxembourg). Azarenka next faces Kremlin Cup stalwart Elena Dementieva, who bounced No.7 seed Patty Schnyder, 63 64. The pair's lengthy head-to-head is now tied at 8-all.

It was the latest setback in a season of disappointment for Sharapova. She has reached three finals all year - winning just one title, in San Diego - and was an early round upset victim in her most recent event at the US Open where, as the defending champion, she fell to Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round.

Faring better - although not by her own admission - was the tournament's No.1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who went to battle with one of her personal nemeses (and 55 of her own unforced errors) for a 36 62 64 win over Gisela Dulko. The Argentine had won two of the pair's three previous meetings and another upset seemed in the cards as the two were tied 4-all in the third, but Kuznetsova's clutch play - breaking at love then serving it out at 30 - sealed the tense win.

"She's a tough player; but I wasn't just fighting her, I was also fighting against everything," Kuznetsova declared. "My shots were flying everywhere. I didn't like anything today. It was hard, but in the end I picked myself up. It's important to me to show my best performance. I'm very happy to have won today."

Kuznetsova is through to the quarterfinals here for the third time, after reaching that same round in 2004 (falling to Dementieva) and 2005 (falling to Francesca Schiavone). For a spot in her first Kremlin Cup semifinal, she will play wildcard Vera Dushevina, who defeated No.5 seed Marion Bartoli, 26 60 64. Dushevina nearly allowed a 4-1 lead to slide in the decider, allowing Bartoli to close to 4-all, but she reeled off two more games for the win.

The last two first round matches also took the court on Wednesday, and Russia had lots to cheer about as Vera Zvonareva won a two-hour, six-minute thriller against Amélie Mauresmo, 46 63 64, and Dinara Safina dismissed Martina Müller, 61 63. Zvonareva's win was of particular note as she had lost every one of her first seven meetings against Mauresmo. Next up for the home favorites will be No.3 seed Anna Chakvetadze (for Safina) and Radwanska (for Zvonareva).

The only seeded team in action in the doubles draw was No.3 tandem Safina and Elena Likhovtseva, which beat Alina Jidkova and Darya Kustova, 62 62, to make the semifinals. Two more first round doubles matches were also played.

Thursday's schedule is highlighted by the remaining four second round matches. Among the stars taking the court will be defending champion Chakvetadze, No.4 seed Serena Williams and No.8 seed Nicole Vaidisova. (WTA)