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Serena, Sloane, Sveta & Vika Reach Elite Eight at AO

A pair of veteran Grand Slam champions, a rising star and the World No. 1 all booked their spots into the elite eight in the women's draw of the Australian Open.

By Erik Gudris

Sloane Stephens Australian Open (January 21, 2013) -- The women's quarterfinals at the Australian Open were set with two pre-tourney favorites notching commanding performances. Also into the final eight was a veteran coming back from injury and a rising star who will now be in the top 20.

The day's fourth round action opened with Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki finding themselves in a near repeat of their earlier meeting this month in Sydney. Kuznetsova took control of the first set by ripping forehand winners at will along with making successful forays to net. But once she took the set 6-2, Kuznetsova appeared to lose the plot while Wozniacki started finding better depth on her shots.

Quickly going down 0-3 in the second set, a sluggish looking Kuznetsova dug a deeper hole for herself later by double faulting to give Wozniacki a 5-1 lead. The former No. 1 Wozniacki wrapped up the set 6-2 and looked more confident despite her father Piotr looking less than thrilled with her efforts.

Before the third set even began, Kuznetsova earned a time violation as the Russian took too much time getting herself situated on court after a lengthy off-court break. Both women traded early breaks of serve and then Kuznetsova called a medical time out to deal with blisters. The constant stops in action seemed to work for the Russian as she once again found her big game in time to fight off multiple break points to hold for 4-all.

At 5-all, Kuznetsova rediscovered her earlier game plan of closing in on the net to finish off points, a tactic that won her 23 out of 25 points. The Russian broke for 6-5 and, contrary to previous matches in her career where nerves got in the way, she calmly served out Wozniacki to seal a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 and with it a return trip to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.

"I think that important moments I had to do what I do the best, and I have done it," Kuznetsova said later about the close third set. "I don't really remember what exactly happened in these points, you know. I'm just going one ball at a time, and whatever point score is, you know, you're just trying to do the best."

Top seed Victoria Azarenka faced little resistance against Russia's Elena Vesnina in their fourth round match. Azarenka played some of her best tennis all event that included 20 winners and only 13 unforced errors as she cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win. Azarenka next faces Kuznetsova.

"I think it's going to be very tough match," said Azarenka. "I can see Sveta came back much fresher, much stronger.  She knows how to handle big stages, big tournaments.  She's a Grand Slam champion, as well. It's definitely an exciting match for me to be in.  I'm sure it's going to be really tough.  But, you know, I have to get ready and give my best."

Serena and Sloane Book All-American Quarterfinal

The present and possibly future queens of American tennis booked a quarterfinal meeting but through very different ways in their fourth round matches.

19-year-old Sloane Stephens jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the opening set against Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski thanks to combination of winners from Stephens and errors from Jovanovski. Overhitting and too many errors from the young Serbian gave Stephens the first set 6-1.

But Jovanovski got her loud, vocal grunt as well as her big groundstrokes going and with sharp winners it was Jovanovski who took the second set 6-3. The final set was a back and forth tussle with both women holding their own from the baseline. Stephens secured a late break of serve and went on to close out the tight match 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.

The win by Stephens puts her into her first career quarterfinal at a Major and will ensure she enters the top 20 at the end of the event.

Next up for Stephens will be No. 3 seed Serena Williams who dismissed Russia's Maria Kirlienko in a stellar performance with the American hitting 22 winners and only six unforced errors to complete a 6-2, 6-0 win.

Williams has only dropped eight games heading into the quarterfinals and though she played a tough match against Stephens earlier in the month in Brisbane, Williams is looking forward to their next meeting.

"I took a lot from that match, Williams said. "She plays well.  Like I said after the match, she can be the greatest player. I feel like for me it will be another good match and a good opportunity for both of us.  Definitely one of us will be in the semifinals, which I think is awesome.  So it's going to be good."

(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)


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