When her second serve sailed 10 feet long to trim her third-set tiebreaker lead to a single point, Victoria Azarenka could have crumbled under the pressure.
But deadlocked in a quarterfinal with defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, the No. 1 player in the world displayed the poise that has made her one of the few consistent players on the topsy-turvy women’s tour.
After a Stosur shot clipped the net, Azarenka deftly flipped a drop-shot winner into the near court to give her match point. And after smashing her first serve into the middle of the net, the 23-year-old forced Stosur into an errant shot to claim a 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5) victory.
The win sends Azarenka into her third Grand Slam semifinal of the year and ensured she will retain her No. 1 ranking. Azarenka awaits the winner of third-seeded Maria Sharapova and France’s Marion Bartoli.
If Sharapova advances, fans will have the joy of re-living the Australian Open final shriek-fest won by Azarenka in straight sets.
Tuesday’s match, which was briefly interrupted by rain, saw Azarenka cruise through the opening set in only 30 minutes. But Stosur picked up her play in the second and rallied in a third set full of breaks of serve to force the decisive tiebreaker.
Stosur quickly fell behind 0-4 but her full-stretch slice forehand return finally got her on the board and triggered a 5-1 run that pulled her even.
The 27-year-old Australian fell in the French Open semifinals but failed to advance beyond the second round of the year’s other two majors.
Meantime Azarenka, who won four straight tournaments to start the year, has followed up her semifinal appearances at Wimbledon and the Olympics with another semifinal run.