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Azarenka Survives; Serena and Stephens Reach Fourth Round at AO

Top seed Victoria Azarenka was pushed to the brink by American Jamie Hampton. Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens edged closer to a possible quarterfinal tilt at the Australian Open.

By Erik Gudris

Victoria Azarenka (January 19th, 2013) -- What looked to be at first a near rout turned into a dramatic three set battle as top seed Victoria Azarenka was pushed to the brink by American Jamie Hampton on Day 6 of the Australian Open.

Azarenka jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the opening set only to see Hampton, fueled by laser like forehand winners, fight back to within a game. But a costly double fault from Hampton when down set point handed Azarenka the set 6-4.

Both women traded multiple breaks in the second set until Hampton finally held serve for 3-1. After fighting off break points from an increasingly frustrated Azarenka, Hampton held two set points on Azarenka's next service game only to see them slip away due to errors. Before she served for the set at 5-4, Hampton called for a medical time out to deal with lower back pain. When play resumed, Hampton closed out the set to the delight of the crowd on hand at Rod Laver Arena.

Hampton was still hurting at the start of the final set but fought through the obvious pain she was in to break Azarenka for 2-1. Azarenka, who earned boos from the crowd after whacking her racquet in anger, broke back and soon found herself up 4-2. Azarenka got down 0-40 on her next service game but willed herself to hold for 5-2. From there, Azarenka finally was able to put away Hampton as she closed out the 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win.

"Yeah, it was definitely tough," said Azarenka afterwards. "It's always good to know, you know, you battle through not playing well, not feeling great.   It's important, you know, to be alive in the tournament. You know, towards the end things were going better for me.   I'm glad about that, but definitely she played an outstanding match."

Next up for Azarenka is Hobart title winner Russia's Elena Vesnina who fought back from being down match point in the second set before she beat Italy's Roberta Vinci 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

Serena All Aces Versus Morita

Serena Williams, who struggled at times against the flat-hitting of Japan's Ayumi Morita in their third round meeting, recovered to close out a 6-1, 6-3 win. Williams hit another massive serve that was clocked at 128 MPH that was only a fraction off of the world record serve hit by her sister Venus Williams.

Williams now faces in the fourth round Russia's Maria Kirilenko who defeated Yanina Wickmayer 7-6(4), 6-3.

Kuznetsova and Wozniacki to Meet Again in Fourth Round

Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova outhit Spain's Carla Suarez-Navarro in the first set of their third round encounter before multiple errors off of the Russian's allowed the Spaniard back into the match. As they thrilled the crowd on Court 2 with several classic clay-court style rallies, it was Kuznetsova who finally served out the final game on her third match point to win 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Kuznetsova will now face No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki in a rematch of their long round of 16 battle in Sydney earlier this month. Wozniacki advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Lesia Tsurenko.

Stephens Wins Intense Battle Against Robson

In the highly anticipated battle of teenage stars, American Sloane Stephens and Great Britain's Laura Robson faced off again for the second week in a row after their earlier meeting this month at Hobart. In a match with filled nervy errors and tremendous shotmaking, it was Stephens who closed out the first set 7-5.

Despite the crowd on Court 2 being solidly behind the Melbourne-born Robson, it was Stephens who cooly secured an early break of serve in the second set to go up 3-1 in the second set. Serving for the match at 5-3, Stephens found herself down 15-40 but used her stellar movement to chase down several would be winners from Robson to eventually force deuce. Stephens then closed out the match 7-5, 6-3 to advance for the first time to the fourth round in Melbourne.

It was super intense," said Stephens about the atmosphere on court. " I think there wasn't a point where there wasn't something like, Oh, my goodness, this is intense.   I was up like four zero, four all.   We had some pretty intense games.   That's what it's about, getting out there and getting after it. We played a good match.   It was intense, but it was good."

Stephens will next face Bojana Jovanovski who advanced 6-2, 7-6(3) and ended the inspiring run of Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm.

(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)


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