World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka won her 15th consecutive match of the season to make the semi-finals of the WTA Qatar Open on Friday, a year after she almost quit the sport.
The Belarusian star defeated Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 6-0, 6-4 to stay on course for a third title this year, after victories at Sydney and the Australian Open.
Australia’s Samantha Stosur also advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 win over Romania’s Monica Niculescu, while France’s Marion Bartoli defeated Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.
Azarenka lost in the first round to Daniela Hantuchova in Doha last year, and after another lackluster show in Dubai, where she was beaten by Flavio Pennetta, she had become so demoralized that she even considered quitting the sport for good.
Azarenka was in imperious form in the first set on Friday, but stuttered slightly in the second when she was broken for the second time in the eighth game by Wickmayer to level the scores at 4-4.
However, Wickmayer could not hold her serve in the next game, hammering the ball into the net and then sending a backhand wide to concede what proved to be the decisive break for Azarenka.
The top seed then closed out the match by winning the final game without conceding a point.
Earlier, Australian third seed Stosur overcame a spirited fightback by Niculescu to advance to her first semi-final of the year.
Stosur, the reigning US Open champion, won in a little short of two hours after totally losing her momentum in the second set and surviving a tough spell in the third when Niculescu took three games in a row to level at 3-3.
Niculescu had a wonderful opportunity to break Stosur in the seventh game when she was leading 30-0, but sent an easy volley long after a lengthy rally to give the Australian the opening she was looking for.
Bartoli ended Safarova’s giant-killing run, but not before conceding the second set, and gave credit to her fitness.
Safarova had knocked out -former world number one Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the last eight.
In the night match, fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland thrashed Christina McHale of the US 6-1, 6-1 to set up a semi-final clash with Azarenka. The other semi-final will be played between Stosur and Bartoli.
COPA BBVA COLSANITAS
The semi-finals of the WTA’s Copa BBVA Colsanitas, which had already seen every seeded player ousted, took shape on Friday on the outdoor clay-courts at the Centro de Alto Rendimiento Deportivo.
Timea Babos, from Hungary, defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, from Kazakhstan, 6-4, 6-4.
Russian Alexandra Panova defeated Karin Knapp of Italy 6-4, 6-4.
Edina Gallovits-Hall of Romania dropped Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-2, while Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino of Spain frustrated Argentine Paula Ormaechea 6-3, 6-0.
Additional reporting by staff writer