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Radwanska ousts Azarenka

AP, AFP-JIJI

Victoria Azarenka’s run as Australian Open champion ended in a yelling, screaming quarterfinal defeat to Agnieszka Radwanska on Wednesday, continuing the flow of stars tumbling out of the season’s first major.

The fifth-seeded Radwanska stopped Azarenka’s 18-match winning run at Melbourne Park and her own streak of three consecutive quarterfinal defeats at the Australian Open with a stunning display of versatile shot-making that shocked and confused the two-time champion.

The result means both defending champions were out in the quarterfinals — Novak Djokovic lost in five sets to Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday night.

Azarenka’s defeat followed the fourth-round exits of top-ranked Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and leaves 2011 French Open champion Li Na as the only major winner remaining in the women’s draw.

Radwanska next plays No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova, who won the last eight games in a one-hour, 6-3, 6-0 quarterfinal rout of No. 11-seeded Simona Halep.

Li, a two-time finalist in Australia, will play 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in the other semifinal.

Radwanska played drop shots and slices from the baseline, forcing Azarenka to come forward and then lobbing or passing her. She hit touch volleys with calm precision, and instinctively anticipated Azarenka’s shots.

She didn’t fall into big-swinging rallies against the second-seeded Azarenka, either, continually mixing it up and saving the power for when she needed it.

“She was aggressive. She was making everything. She was guessing right,” Azarenka said. “I was just playing a little bit too predictably.

“In the second set I managed to fight back. Third set, the first game was important. I let it go, like easily let it go. From there just couldn’t get back to it.”

Radwanska was also safe on her own serve, dropping just two games in the two-hour match while breaking Azarenka six times. She hadn’t beaten Azarenka in their last seven matches, and had only won three of their previous 13.

“I said to myself one day I have to have one step forward and do the semifinal, and I’m so, so happy that I did it finally,” Radwanska said of her first run to the semis of a major on hard courts. She reached the final at Wimbledon in 2012, becoming the first player from Poland to reach a major final in the Open Era, and the semifinals last year.

“I really had nothing to lose. She was defending the title, not me. I was really trying to play my best tennis, go for every shot I could,” Radwanska said.

Azarenka went down in a flurry of unforced errors, making 47 in three sets as she tried to push Radwanska around.

She seemed to have momentum at the end of the second set, when she leveled after breaking in the last game. But she didn’t carry it through, pushing a forehand fractionally too wide on the first point and unsuccessfully challenging the out call.

It was a sign of things to come. She won only 14 points in the third set, and was broken three times.

Azarenka was booed late in the match, when she smashed a ball into the back of the court after another frustrating error. She screamed loudly after losing big points to the incredibly consistent Radwanska, punched her thigh and her racket and even slapped the court. Nothing worked to change her fortunes.

“I’m not happy with what I did today, but on the court I felt like I could have played a lot better,” Azarenka said. “I can’t take away what she’s done today. She played amazing.”

In the men’s quarterfinals, Rafael Nadal triumphed with a 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov.

Nadal, who received treatment several times for a nasty-looking blister on the palm of his left hand that he said caused him to serve slower than usual, advanced to a semifinal match against Roger Federer.

Nadal won on his fourth match point on Dimitrov’s serve in 3 hours, 37 minutes, a long time after his celebration following a second-set tiebreaker that more resembled a victory dance. He stayed in a squat position after his winning cross-court shot and then pumped his chest out three times.

There were more muted celebrations after a tiebreaker in the third set, with Nadal acknowledging Dimitrov let him off the hook with a wide forehand on set point.

“It’s a tough moment mentally for an opponent,” Nadal said. “If that forehand from him goes in and he wins the third, I’m going to be fighting.”

Nadal fended off three set points in the third set, including two in the tiebreaker, and won on his first set point.

He went up 2-0 in the fourth when he hit a passing backhand down the line on break point with Dimitrov standing at the net. At the end, Dimitrov appeared to wipe tears from his eyes with a towel as he walked off Rod Laver Arena.

Dimitrov was still emotional during his post-match news conference, tearing up while discussing the forehand that got away.

“Obviously I got to put that in the past,” he said. I’m sure I could have done something different. But in a match everything comes down to a split of a second . . . whether in or out.”

Earlier, he said: “I’m a bit shattered. I came out expecting nothing less than to win.”

Later Wednesday, Federer regained his dominance over Andy Murray in Grand Slam matches and advanced to his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3.

Federer clinched it on his third match point with an ace.

Murray, who saved two match points in the third-set tiebreaker, has an 11-10 edge over Federer in head-to-head matches, but Federer has won four of five matches in majors.

Murray got angry after a ruling while losing his serve in the ninth game of the third set when he indicated the ball had bounced twice before Federer made a return.

“I thought Andy did well, he kept the ball in play and put the pressure on me and unfortunately I couldn’t get it done in the third set, with either the serve or the forehand missing. So I am happy to get the win in four,” Federer said.

“I am much higher than I was last year and that’s very satisfying just because I have confidence in my movement.”

Murray said he was always “very unlikely” to win the Australian Open four months after back surgery but added he was happy with his progress despite going out against Federer.

The Wimbledon champion fought resiliently throughout the match.

It was an encouraging performance from the world No. 4 in just his seventh match this season after missing the tail-end of last season following his operation in September.

“I don’t know how many players have come back from surgery and won the first Grand Slam back in their second tournament. It’s very unlikely to happen,” Murray said.

“I just need to use this as a stepping stone to getting better and be happy that I’ve got through five matches here. The last two were particularly tough.

“I’m playing at a decent level fairly quickly again. Hopefully I’ll be back playing my best tennis soon.”