Li, Azarenka advance at US Open
Chinese fifth seed Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion, advanced to the US Open semi-finals for the first time Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 victory over Russian 24th seed Ekaterina Makarova.
Li seized a 4-2 tie-breaker lead but lost five of the next six points, three of them including the last with forehands beyond the baseline, and had to rally by breaking Makarova's last two service games to win in two hours, 20 minutes.
"I'm so happy," Li said. "After losing the second set I was a little disappointed because I was 4-2 up in the tie-breaker, but I told myself point by point to try my best on the court."
Li reached a final-four showdown against the winner of a later match between 16-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who seeks her fifth US Open crown and ninth title of the year, and Spanish 18th seed Carla Suarez Navarro, who has never won a title.
"I will lie down in bed and take some chips and watch," Li said.
Li fired 44 winners to only 15 by Makarova, who upset Williams in last year's Australian Open fourth round but fell to 0-4 all-time against Li, who said her nerves kept her from being more aggressive and coming to the net.
"I was so nervous," she said. "I wish I could do it more in the next round."
Also advancing was two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who reached the quarter-finals by beating Serbian 13th seed Ana Ivanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match postponed from Monday due to rain.
The 24-year-old second seed from Belarus took advantage of Ivanovic's 42 unforced errors and broke the former world number one nine times in the match, winning despite surrendering seven breaks herself and hitting just 21 winners.
"There's a lot of room to improve, but I don't think that my serve was a deal breaker of those games I lost," Azarenka said.
Ivanovic and Azarenka exchanged seven breaks in a row at one stretch.
"I put her a lot under pressure," Ivanovic said. "I felt like I could break her, but it was very frustrating that I was losing my serve constantly."
Azarenka, who lost to Williams in last year's US Open final, will play for a semi-final spot against Slovakia's 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova, with whom she has split four career meetings.
"She's playing the best tennis of her life," Azarenka said. "She is really playing well and has a lot of confidence. We hit with each other a lot so there will be no surprises there."
Azarenka, a semi-finalist in five of the past seven Grand Slams, defeated world number one Williams in the final at Cincinnati in the last big US Open tune-up event, securing her role as the main threat to Williams' reign.
Either Williams, the reigning French Open champion, or Li, this year's Australian Open runner-up, would become the oldest women's champion in US Open history at age 31 with a triumph in Sunday's championship match.
The total of five players over 30 in the quarter-finals was a US Open record and matched the all-time Grand Slam mark from the 1977 Australian Open.
Suarez Navarro could become the first Spaniard to upset a top-ranked woman since Virginia Ruano Pascual beat Martina Hingis at Wimbledon in 2001, but she has yet to take more than three games off Williams in two meetings.
As the first Spanish woman in the US Open quarter-finals since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1998, Suarez Navarro seeks her first Grand Slam semi-final in her first Slam quarter-final appearance since the 2009 Australian Open.
Ivanovic fired 17 winners in the first set and had 15 forehand winners before Azarenka managed one.
"Ana just came out firing. She played really amazing tennis in the first set," Azarenka said. "I was sleeping and she was ripping winners. I had to wake up in the second set.
"I'm not concerned about the slow start. It's just a matter of getting that groove. I just have to be a little more focused on those opportunities I have."
Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open winner, made her first Slam quarter-final since her Roland Garros crown at last year's US Open, but could not duplicate the effort.
"It was frustrating," Ivanovic said. "In the second set, all of a sudden I couldn't find my rhythm on the serve. In the big points she came up with the good serves and big shots. She started playing a lot more aggressively."