Azarenka exits due to illness; Sharapova eliminated from Pan Pacific Open


The two headline acts of the Pan Pacific Open went out in the quarterfinals within minutes of each other on Thursday, with world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka pulling out with mysterious dizzy spells and second-ranked Maria Sharapova falling at the hands of Samantha Stosur.

German fifth seed Angelique Kerber won by walkover after Azarenka, who felt ill during her victory over Roberta Vinci a day earlier, announced she couldn’t continue as Sharapova’s match against Stosur was entering a second-set tiebreak.

Two-time tournament champion Sharapova and Stosur — who was just 1-10 against the Russian in the past — slugged it out in a nail-biter but the muscular Australian came out ahead 7-6 (12-10) in the end, after winning the first set 6-4.

Azarenka said she has never experienced the problem before and, while she will travel to Beijing for next week’s China Open, her plans for the season remains up in the air.

“Before the tournament, I was starting to not feel really good and I haven’t been doing better,” said a groggy-looking Azarenka, winner of this season’s Australian Open. “It took too much energy to push the last two matches and today was just not possible for me.”

“Maybe it’s the tiredness from the whole year,” the Belarusian added. “I’m going to have to run a few tests to see. It’s a little bit of an unknown right now.”

“It’s too bad I couldn’t play more because I enjoy playing here every year. Health is more important right now and I need to be careful.”

Sharapova, who didn’t help herself by committing a series of unforced errors throughout the 1-hour, 53-minute contest, made no excuses for the rare defeat against world No. 9 Stosur.

“One point here, one point there could have changed a little bit but it didn’t go my way,” Sharapova said. “I think she played a really solid match today.”

“She was much more consistent and although I had a good record against her, the last few matches we’ve been played have been quite long and difficult.

“She’s a steady player on the tour and is a difficult opponent for whoever she plays.”

In the first set, Sharapova broke Stosur to grab a 4-3 lead but was broken right back as her opponent went on to take the last two games and the set.

Sharapova was on the ropes in the second set, down 5-3 after Stosur won her second break point of the set. But the career Grand Slam winner dug deep, breaking back and holding serve to make it 5-5 and forcing the tiebreak.

Sharapova had set point at 10-9 but last year’s U.S. Open champion Stosur, who will face Russian Nadia Petrova in the next round, persevered, capturing the next three points to reach Friday’s semifinals for the first time.

“My record was very bad before the last couple of times that we played,” Stosur said. “Since then, I’ve really worked out how I want to play against Maria and what tactics I want to use.”

In the first quarterfinal at Ariake Tennis Forest Park, 30-year-old Petrova knocked off sixth seed Sara Errani in three sets to reach the last four for her second time.

Petrova, seeded 17th in her sixth appearance here, outlasted the Italian 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 despite needing treatment on her lower back in the third set.

“I’ve been struggling since I arrived in Asia with my lower back,” said Petrova, a semifinalist in 2008. “Tomorrow is another day, I’m sure I’m going to feel better than I did today.”

“It was a very tough match against a very tough opponent. She’s having the best season of her life. I’m very happy to win today.”

Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska will face Kerber in the final four after beating former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3.