NEW YORK (AP) — Trailing against a woman trying to become the first qualifier in the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 1981, Victoria Azarenka needed every ounce of experience and skill to advance.
Twice a major champion, and twice a runner-up at Flushing Meadows, Azarenka took four of the last five games Monday night to come back and win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending the surprising run of 145th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.
“Aleksandra played some amazing tennis, really. She has a great future,” said the 16th-seeded Azarenka, who lost to Serena Williams in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals.
“It’s never easy to play somebody you don’t know. But she played really well and stepped it up. I just tried to stay positive and tried to fight and do anything I can to really turn the match around and really stay in the moment,” Azarenka added. “I felt like I had to start to play more aggressive and come in and take chances. And I think in important moments I did that well.”
She certainly did, pushing forward to win nine of 10 points at the net in the third set of the fourth-round match.
Azarenka was down 3-2 in that set, but broke to go ahead 4-3 with a backhand winner down the line off one of Krunic’s many attempted drop shots.
The varied game played by Krunic, a 21-year-old from Serbia, worked wonders earlier in the tournament, when she used her mix of spins and speeds to eliminate two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round, and 27th-seeded Madison Keys in the second.
“I didn’t expect such a good effort from myself. … I enjoyed the moment and I tried to stay in the moment as much as I could,” Krunic said.
Her ranking would have been the lowest for a quarterfinalist in U.S. Open history, although other women – such as 2009 champion Kim Clijsters – have made it that far without any ranking at all because of a lack of activity.
And the crowd showered Krunic with loud support throughout the 2-hour, 19-minute match under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, something she said surprised her.
When the match ended, and Azarenka was pulled aside for an on-court interview, Krunic stuck around so the players could walk off together – the sort of thing that rarely happens at the U.S. Open.
Next up for Azarenka is 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced earlier Monday by beating No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Azarenka has won the Australian Open twice and used to be ranked No. 1, but she has struggled during an uneven 2014 because of health problems.
She entered Monday having played a total of only 20 matches all season, including one match during the five months from January to June because of a left foot injury, and only four in the time between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because of a bothersome right knee.
“I’m just proud to be on the court. I love tennis. I love the yellow ball. I love to hit the forehands and backhands. I just love the feeling. You guys are awesome,” she told the crowd. “And what I miss the most is just to go out here in front of the crowd and feel the energy and fight hard.”
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