x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

French Open: Friendship on hold as Azarenka looks to secure place in last four

Kirilenko up next as Sharapova cruises past Stephens in the quarter-finals.

Victoria Azarenka, right, shakes hands with her vanquished rival Francesca Schiavone. Yoan Valat / EPA
Victoria Azarenka, right, shakes hands with her vanquished rival Francesca Schiavone. Yoan Valat / EPA

PARIS // Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka reached the French Open quarter-finals for the third time yesterday with a 6-3, 6-0 win over the 2010 champion, Francesca Schiavone.

The double Australian Open champion will now face 12th-seeded Maria Kirilenko of Russia for a place in the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

The protagonists know each other well, not least as erstwhile doubles partners - they were runners-up at the 2011 Australian Open, while Azarenka saw off Kirilenko in the bronze-medal match at the London Olympic Games last summer.

Defending champion Maria Sharapova cantered into the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over American 17th seed Sloane Stephens.

Sharapova triumphed in 89 minutes and now faces either 18th -seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia or US hope Jamie Hampton.

The second-seeded Sharapova is yet to drop a set and handled Stephens's strong serve well, accumulating 12 break points and converting eight.

In her fourth-round match, Kirilenko, despite needing treatment for a sore shoulder, beat unseeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States 7-5, 6-4 to reach the last eight at Roland Garros for the first time after recovering from losing the opening three games.

Kirilenko, 26, who broke in the sixth and eighth games to make up for her slow start, and then overcame an opening service loss at the start of the second set, has now equalled her best grand-slam showing of runs to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2012 and the Australian Open three years ago.

Schiavone, the world No 50, matched the 23-year-old Azarenka shot for shot and scream for scream in a first set which featured six breaks of serve.

But the pair's nine-year age difference was obvious in the second set, which Azarenka swept through in just 26 minutes, having reeled off nine straight games.

"I think it was the most composed and the most consistent match so far," Azarenka said.

"The beginning was back and forth. I feel like I didn't take all of the opportunities, but there was kind of a build-up to later on that I was doing the right thing."

The French Open is the only grand slam where Azarenka has failed to get beyond the quarter-finals.

She was beaten at the last-eight stage by Dinara Safina in 2009 and by Li Na, two years later.

Azarenka has a 3-2 winning record against close friend Kirilenko - who won the first two matches of their series, although her last triumph was back in 2007.

"Maria, I played her a lot of times," Azarenka said. "I think the last time we played was the Olympics.

"She's definitely improved a lot over the last couple years since she's a very motivated player [and a] good friend of mine."