World No. 2 Novak Djokovic raced into the last four of the China Open in straight sets yesterday as home favorite Li Na set up a testing women’s semi-final with Russian tennis queen Maria Sharapova.
The 25-year-old Serbian thumped Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-1, 6-2 to maintain his unbeaten record at the Beijing tournament and continue his push to finish the year at No. 1 in the rankings.
Djokovic, behind only Roger Federer in the ATP standings, has won the China Open on the two occasions he has entered — in 2009 and 2010 — but he missed last year because of injury.
The top seed made light work of Melzer, winning in just 53 minutes and hitting 12 aces — four of which came in a single game.
“I think that’s the first time,” Djokovic said of his four in a row.
“It was one of the best serving matches I have had in my career. I have stepped up at least a level in each match that I have played here,” he added, stressing that he was trying to be more aggressive.
Djokovic set up a semi-final clash with Germany’s Florian Mayer, who beat wild-card Zhang Ze to bring the Chinese player’s fairytale run crashing to a halt.
The 22-year-old, ranked 165th in the world, made history in the round-of-16 when he became the first Chinese man ever to beat a top 20 player, dumping out France’s Richard Gasquet.
His defeat of the Frenchman, ranked 14th, also meant Zhang was the first Chinese player to reach the quarter-final of an ATP event since Pan Bing made the semi-finals in Seoul in 1995, but matching Pan’s 17-year-old mark proved a step too far for the right-hander from Nanjing, with Mayer winning 6-3, 6-4.
Third seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France beat Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals, where he will face Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, who beat Sam Querrey of the US 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
In the women’s singles, Li beat defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-4, 6-2 to join Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in the last four.
Victory for world No. 8 Li also secured her the place at the end-of-season WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, later this month.
“I have already qualified to play in the WTA finals, so what I’m going to do is enjoy the match with Sharapova,” Li said.
Showing ominous form, French Open champion Sharapova, yet to drop a set in China, won the first set 6-0 and was 3-0 up in the second when Germany’s Angelique Kerber quit the match citing an injury to her right foot.
The Russian stayed on track for a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final, which she lost to Azarenka, who has also yet to drop a set this week.
Belarussian Azarenka maintained her scintillating form, dismissing Romina Oprandi 6-2, 6-0.
“It’s never easy to go in the tennis court and win the match, even though the score was like this,” Azarenka, 23, said.
Azarenka next faces France’s Marion Bartoli after the ninth seed beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-0, 2-6, 6-4.