Tennis

Azarenka and Kerber win, will face each other in Miami Open semifinals

Victoria Azarenka belts a return during her 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Great Britain’s Johanna Konta on Wednesday. With the win, the Belarussian raised her season record to 20-1 and broke back into the top five.
Victoria Azarenka belts a return during her 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Great Britain’s Johanna Konta on Wednesday. With the win, the Belarussian raised her season record to 20-1 and broke back into the top five. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Women’s tennis this year has been as unpredictable as the South Florida spring weather. The one constant has been Victoria Azarenka.

As top-ranked Serena Williams exited her third tournament of the year without a title and a variety of other women slide in and out of the top 10, Azarenka has been nearly invincible and climbed back up toward the No. 1 ranking she held in early 2012.

The Belarussian raised her season record to 20-1 and reached the Miami Open semifinals with a 6-4, 6-2 victory Wednesday against Great Britain’s top player, Johanna Konta. With the win, Azarenka broke back into the top 5 after falling out of the top 30 during an injury-plagued 2014.

Azarenka’s semifinal opponent Thursday will be No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who beat American Madison Keys 6-3, 6-2 in the Wednesday night quarterfinal. The match took just over an hour, and Keys, of Boca Raton, had 39 unforced errors to just 11 for Kerber. Kerber is the only top-10 seed to reach the semifinals. Azarenka is seeded 13th.

“You either laugh or you cry,” Keys said, smiling, after the match. “I think I did a pretty good job [controlling my emotions], considering how badly I think I played. I tried to think big picture, but I still walk away disappointed.”

Kerber trained in Las Vegas with Steffi Graf and husband Andre Agassi earlier this year, and said that gave her confidence, as did beating Azarenka in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

“I remember this match really well, and I will try to continue this [Thursday], to go out there trying to show her, ‘OK, I’m here. I’m ready for you,’ ” Kerber said.

Azarenka and Kerber have been two of the three Serena slayers this season. Kerber beat Williams in the Australian Open final. Azarenka beat her in the Indian Wells (California) final a week and a half ago. And Svetlana Kuznetsova beat her this week in the Round of 16. Kuznetsova will face Timea Bacsiniszky in the other semifinal.

If Azarenka, a two-time champion in Key Biscayne, wins a third title on Saturday, she would be the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne back-to-back. Only Graf and Kim Clijsters conquered the desert-to-beach duo.

On the men’s side, 15th-seeded Belgian David Goffin continued his inspiring run, reaching the semifinals with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Gilles Simon of France. Goffin said the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks have been on his mind all week.

“Of course, all my thoughts are for Belgium and people there,” Goffin said. “I was shocked with what happened, and it was tough to see all the videos. When you see all the shops and every area you know perfectly, like the airport … I took so many flights there. Seeing the video is impressive to see how it was completely destroyed.

“We have to move on; continue to work; continue to play tennis. There is nothing else I can do.”

Goffin will next face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the winner of Wednesday’s late-night quarterfinal match over No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3.

“I have nothing to lose,” Goffin said. “He won almost everything this year. He’s playing unbelievable tennis at the moment. But I played a great match against him last year in Cincinnati, and it could be interesting to watch the match.”

▪ Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer toured the tournament grounds on Wednesday.

The future of the 31-year-old Key Biscayne tournament is uncertain because of a lengthy legal battle over a proposal for facility improvements. Orlando has been mentioned as a possible alternative if things can’t be worked out here; although there is no adequate tournament facility in Orlando and the event has seven years remaining on its Key Biscayne contract.

Miami Open tournament director Adam Barrett had no comment, other than to confirm that Dyer “came on his own with some Orlando colleagues to see the scope” of the tournament.

The U.S. Tennis Association is building a massive training center in Lake Nona, near Orlando, but the current blueprints don’t include a professional tournament facility.

In October, Dyer told the Miami Herald, when asked about the Miami Open’s possible relocation: “Our community has a strategic goal of looking for opportunities to attract world-class events and tournaments, some of those include tennis events like the Davis Cup, Fed Cup, NCAA regionals and NCAA finals.”

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