Azarenka sets up quarterfinal showdown with Ostapenko at Brisbane International

'I am improving really well, said 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov as he took just over an hour to beat Daniel Altmaier

By AP

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Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts after winning her women's singles match against Clara Burel of France at the Brisbane International . - AFP
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus reacts after winning her women's singles match against Clara Burel of France at the Brisbane International . - AFP

Published: Thu 4 Jan 2024, 12:23 PM

Victoria Azarenka is in familiar territory after reaching the quarterfinals in Brisbane, where she won her first WTA title in 2009 when the tournament was staged for the first time.

The 34-year-old Azarenka beat Clara Burel of France 7-5, 6-2 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals for the fifth time in six trips to the key Australian Open tune-up event.

The former No. 1-ranked Azarenka and two-time Australian Open champion — in 2012 and 2013 — will next face third-seeded Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion who beat big-serving three-time Brisbane International winner Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Pliskova went into the match on a 10-match winning streak in Brisbane and was coming off a second-round win over another former No. 1, Naomi Osaka, but was often on the back foot with Ostapenko hitting 50 winners.

Azarenka opened Day 5 on Pat Rafter Arena and quickly took a 4-1 lead before withstanding a comeback from the No. 56-ranked Burel. She took an early break in the second set and finished off in 92 minutes.

“I felt that whenever I needed, I was able to step up my game,” Azarenka said.

The top two seeds were in action later Thursday.

Azarenka's compatriot, Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, was playing a night match against Zhu Lin. No. 2-seeded Elena Rybakina, the 2022 Wimbledon champion, was scheduled to meet No. 13 Elise Mertens.

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria plays a shot in his match against Daniel Altmaier of Germany. - AP
Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria plays a shot in his match against Daniel Altmaier of Germany. - AP

In the men’s draw, 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov needed just over an hour to beat Daniel Altmaier 6-1, 6-2. Second-seeded Dimitrov hit 20 winners, made just five unforced errors and didn't face a break point until he was serving for the match, when he rallied from 15-40 down and had to save three.

“I was moving really well early on. I was reading the ball,” he said. “So I did a lot of good things, right. Very happy with that.”

Dimitrov will next play Australian wild-card entry Rinky Hijikata, who beat Czech qualifier Tomas Machac 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Rafael Nadal, a 22-time major winner who is playing on a wild card in Brisbane after spending 12 months on the sidelines recovering from a hip injury, was taking on local Jason Kubler in a night match.

The winner of that match will advance to a quarterfinal against Jordan Thompson, who got a walkover when fourth-seeded Ugo Humbert withdrew from their second-round match because of illness.

Meanwhile, U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff overcame hard-hitting Czech teenager Barbara Fruhvirtova 6-3, 6-0 on Thursday to extend her winning the start to the year and the defense of her title at the Auckland Tennis Classic.

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The 16-year-old Fruhvirtova came out hitting harder than any player at the tournament so far: generating enormous power off both hands.

Gauff now will play eighth-seeded Varvara Gracheva of France in the quarterfinals on Friday. Gracheva beat Lulu Sun of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4.

Seventh-seeded Petra Martic sent down six aces and converted four of nine break points on her way to a 6-2, 6-2 win over Yuan Yue of China. Martic will play American Emma Navarro in the quarterfinals.


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