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Azarenka advances to Australian Open semifinals

  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

    Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

  • American rapper Redfoo, watches the quarterfinal between Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    American rapper Redfoo, watches the quarterfinal between Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus celebrates after defeating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in  their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Victoria Azarenka of Belarus celebrates after defeating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his quarterfinal win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/ Scott Barbour,Pool)

    Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his quarterfinal win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/ Scott Barbour,Pool)

  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic  celebrates his win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.  (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

    Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

  • Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a forehand return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a forehand return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

  • Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

    Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

    Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
  • American rapper Redfoo, watches the quarterfinal between Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus celebrates after defeating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in  their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his quarterfinal win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/ Scott Barbour,Pool)
  • Serbia's Novak Djokovic  celebrates his win over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.  (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
  • Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a forehand return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
  • Russia's Maria Sharapova hits a return to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
  • Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a forehand return to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

MELBOURNE, Australia – With her most famous fan sitting in the crowd wearing a shirt reminding her to keep calm, defending champion Victoria Azarenka overcame some early jitters to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova, 7-5, 6-1, today and advance to the Australian Open semifinals.

After dropping serve in a long fourth game that went to deuce 10 times, Azarenka recovered to dominate the rest of the match against Kuznetsova, a two-time major winner who was floating dangerously in the draw with a No. 75 ranking as she recovers from a knee injury.

Azarenka will meet the winner of the quarterfinal between Serena Williams and 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens. Williams has lost only one match since a first-round exit at the French Open in a streak that included back-to-back major titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well as the Olympic gold medal and season-sending WTA Championship.

She beat Azarenka all five times they played last year, and is 11-1 in career head-to-heads against the 23-year-old Belarusian.

Azarenka’s American rapper friend, Redfoo, returned from a concert in Malaysia to attend the quarterfinal match.

Wearing a red sleeveless T-shirt that read “Keep Calm and Bring Out the Bottles,” the name of his next single, Redfoo stood, clapped and yelled “Come on, Vika!” during the tight first set.

Asked if it helped to have her No. 1 fan wearing a keep calm logo, Azareka said “I was looking more at the part that says ‘Bring out the bottles.’ ”

Of her game, she added, “I’m just glad I could produce my good tennis when it was needed.”

In the men’s quarterfinals, 17-time major winner Roger Federer was playing No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a night match and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray was to meet Jeremy Chardy of France.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic beat fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, last night, advancing to the semifinals at an 11th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

The 2-hour, 31-minute victory took exactly half the time of his five-set, fourth-round win two nights previously against Stanislas Wawrinka.

“It was a great performance. I was hoping to have a shorter match ... just not to go over 5 hours,” Djokovic said, in a comparatively subdued mood after a considerably more routine victory. “It’s always going to be tough against Tomas; he’s an established player. He has a big game, big serve. He can compete against anyone on any surface.”

In the semifinals, Djokovic will meet No. 4-seeded David Ferrer.

Ferrer survived a quarterfinal battle with fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. Almagro had three chances to serve for the match, but Ferrer broke each time.

A usually mild-mannered pro, Ferrer showed his aggression at times when he threatened to spike his racket and even smashed his water bottle in the changeover after he’d dropped serve in a frustrating fourth set that featured eight breaks of serve.

He’d never lost to Almagro in 12 previous meetings and, as the No. 1 Spaniard in the draw in the absence of 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal, felt a responsibility to reach the semis.

“It was (a) miracle I won this match,” Ferrer said of his comeback 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win. “I tried to fight every point; that’s my game. I always fight.”

Ferrer survived once in the third set and twice in the fourth when Almagro was serving for the match, but held his nerve and finally advanced to his third semifinal in the last four Grand Slam events.

“In the important moments, I played more consistent in my game,” Ferrer said. “Of course, in the next round, the semifinals, I need to play my best tennis, better than today.”

Djokovic acknowledged Ferrer’s work ethic, saying the 30-year-old Spaniard was “one of the most respected guys on the tour because he never gives up.”

“He plays every single match of his career with 100 percent,” Djokovic said.

“I’m expecting a long one,” he added.

Ferrer has never been past a major semifinal.

There are only three men left in the draw who have won Grand Slam titles – Djokovic has won five, including the last two in Australia. He’s aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles.

Maria Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam last year by winning the French Open, a few months after losing the Australian Open final to Azarenka. After her 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over Ekatrina Makarova yesterday, she has conceded only nine games in five matches – a record in Australia.

“To be honest, those are not the stats you want to be known for,” Sharapova said.

After opening with a pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins, Sharapova thrashed seven-time major winner Venus Williams, 6-1, 6-3, in the third round and Belgian Kristen Flipkens, 6-0, 6-1, in the fourth.

Li Na has reached the semifinals in three of the last four years at Melbourne Park after beating Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5, 6-3. The 30-year-old Chinese player lost the 2011 final in Australia to Kim Clijsters, then won her breakthrough Grand Slam at the French Open a few months later. She hasn’t been back to a major final since.

Djokovic won his first major title in Australia in 2008, then didn’t make another final in his next 11 Grand Slam events. He’s won four since then and is the top-ranked man in tennis, crediting the lessons from his experiences back then.

“At the start of my career, I went through a lot of different kinds of challenges physically, mentally,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I was aware of the fact that I need to improve because I wasn’t feeling well, especially in the heat. I had lots of health issues.

“I don’t want to go through it again. I am aware of the importance of an everyday practice and recovery basis. So as long as it’s like that, I think I’ll be all right.”

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