Murray into Brisbane semis; Azarenka pulls out
BRISBANE, Australia (AP):
With an infected big toe and a lopsided losing record against Serena Williams, top-ranked Victoria Azarenka decided it was safest to withdraw from the Brisbane International semi-finals rather than risk aggravating the injury so close to her Australian Open title defence.
Azarenka made the announcement yesterday about a half hour before she was due to play No. 3 Williams, who is on a roll after winning titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the United States (US) Open.
The withdrawal came shortly after Andy Murray, the Olympic men's gold medallist and US Open champion, finished off his 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin in the quarter-finals.
Murray had lapses in his opening three-set win over No. 199-ranked Australian qualifier John Millman on Thursday night, while Ivan Lendl was en route to Australia, but had no serious trouble with his coach in the stands.
The first of Murray's three titles in a breakthrough 2012 season was in Brisbane, where he started working with former No. 1-ranked Lendl last January. The next two titles were career-defining triumphs at the London Olympics and US Open.
Murray said he was satisfied with his serve - he didn't get broken in the match - and was starting to get over the aches and pains that are usual when returning from the end-of-season break.
"When you're practising it's hard to replicate match situations ... and they're the things that take a while to get back into the rhythm of playing," he said, putting his relatively slow start in Brisbane down to a lack of match practice rather than a lack of condition and rejecting the suggestion he had been "rusty".
He next plays fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, a 6-4, 7-6 (3) winner over 2012 Brisbane finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov.
The other semi-final will feature 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who ousted No. 3 Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 6-4, against 21-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who beat seventh-seeded Austrian Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-2.
Williams on top
With her impressive finish to the 2012 season taking her major tally to 15, Williams is the most formidable player in women's tennis.
She has won 34 of her last 35 matches since a first-round exit at the French Open and is in contention to return to the No. 1 ranking if she wins the Australian Open.
Williams also has won 11 of her 12 matches against Azarenka, including all five in 2012.
Instead of a rematch, she advanced directly to a final against Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the other semi-final. Pavlyuchenkova and Williams have sung karaoke together recently while training at Patrick Mouratoglou's academy, but haven't been hitting against each other.
Tsurenko's run exceeded all her expectations, considering she lost in the last round of qualifying and was only a late inclusion in the main draw after No. 2 Maria Sharapova withdrew due to a sore right collarbone.
Azarenka has been trying to deal with a sore big toe on her right foot for 10 days, saying she'd picked up an infection after a pedicure last week. She had to have part of the nail on the big toe removed on Thursday. She was planning to head to Melbourne and hoping it would only take two days before she can continue fully preparing for the season's first major.
"I tried everything. We tried medication with taping and I was playing through the pain for quite a while," said Azarenka, who won the Sydney International and the Australian Open last year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season. "It's just something that I had to do to make sure that I can be fully recovered and ready for Australian Open. It's that kind of compromise I had to take.
"It's just very unfortunate timing, because I was really looking forward to playing and excited."
Williams said she could empathise with Azarenka.
"I like Vika. I think she's a great player. I love playing her," Williams said. "I had that toe problem just a couple weeks ago and it's painful ... it's so painful. Doesn't sound painful, but it is. You can't walk with that. I hope she gets better fast."