Victoria Azarenka erratic but effective in Carlsbad tennis semifinal

CARLSBAD — There wasn't much for Victoria Azarenka to brag about Saturday at the Southern California Open women's tennis tournament.

Her errors were as emphatic as her winners. Her high-pitched screams were as much in frustration as in effort.

But ultimately the outcome was favorable for the top-seeded Azarenka, who defeated seventh-seeded Ana Ivanovic, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3, in an unevenly played semifinal that lasted 1 hour 53 minutes.

Azarenka, who took the first major title of the year when she won the Australian Open in January, will play in today's final against fifth-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia, the 2011 U.S. Open winner, who defeated wild-card entrant Virginie Razzano of France, 7-6 (2), 6-3, Saturday night in the second semifinal.

Razzano, ranked 131st in the world, couldn't quite summon enough energy after her stunning 3-hour 35-minute quarterfinal upset of Petra Kvitova on Friday.

The final begins at 2 p.m.

Azarenka, who has never won the Carlsbad event, called the match "interesting," even a first set that, judging by the score, appeared to be a total blowout by the 24-year-old from Belarus.

"The first set, the score didn't say the whole story, because there were a lot of close games," said Azarenka, ranked No. 3. "I had to come from 15-40 down a few times and take my opportunities. And that's what was good about the first set, that I took those chances. In the second set, I missed a couple of easy shots and she was right there to take those opportunities."

Indeed, in the first set Ivanovic had points to win the first four games before she was broken at love in the fifth game and made three backhand errors to hand Azarenka the sixth game.

In the second set Ivanovic seemed to gain confidence with each shot and won the final two games by pounding aggressively into the corners with her forehand.

"In that first set I had so many chances," said Ivanovic, who was ranked No. 1 in 2008 and is now 17th. "If you give her chances, she's going to use them. But I was on a high and started very well in the second set."

In fact the 25-year-old Serbian jumped into a 3-0 lead and never trailed in the second set.

But after keeping things even through the first four games of the final set, Ivanovic had her serve broken at love, and Azarenka consolidated that crucial break by holding serve and taking a 4-2 lead. Ivanovic never got a break point on Azarenka's serve after that.

By beating Ivanovic, Azarenka guaranteed she will pass Maria Sharapova and be ranked No. 2 Monday, behind Serena Williams.

This is Azarenka's first tournament since she withdrew before her second-round match at Wimbledon in June after twisting her right knee in a hard fall during a first-round match on a slippery grass court. She hasn't lost on an outdoor hard court in 11 months, since a tense three-set loss to Williams in the 2012 U.S. Open final.

Twitter: @mepucin

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