Sloane Stephens of the U.S. returns the ball during her match against Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic on the third day of the WTA Qatar Ladies Open in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:42 pm
Azarenka into 3rd round in Qatar; Stephens out
By MICHAEL CASEYAP Sports Writer
The defending champion was joined by fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki. Radwanska beat Australian qualifier Anastasia Rodionova 6-3, 6-2, and Wozniacki downed Sorana Cirstea of Romania 7-6 (7), 6-0.
American Sloane Stephens, who upset Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals, lost to Klara Zakopalova 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).
"Today was a tough match," Stephens said of the wind and 80-degree temperatures. "The conditions were tough but Klara played well. Now I just need to regroup and keep working on my game and get ready for Dubai."
Stephens pulled out of Fed Cup against Italy last week after aggravating an abdominal muscle injury and suffering from a stomach virus.
Stephens said she hadn't been serving much because of the injury. On Wednesday, her first-serve percentage was 65 percent for the match, including a second-set dip to 51 percent.
Azarenka will retain her top ranking if she reaches the final and Williams fails to reach the semifinals. She made a nervous start, dropping serve to fall 2-0 behind. But the Belarusian recovered to break three times and win the first set. Azarenka then took a 3-0 lead in the second set.
"Well, it wasn't easy for sure, but you never want to take this as an excuse because it's the same for both players," Azarenka said of the wind. "I started to go too much for my shots at the beginning. Then I started to be more patient, work more the points."
Radwanska had little trouble with the 131st-ranked Rodionova, breaking to go up 3-1 on the way to winning the first set. The second set was even more one-sided, with the Pole breaking twice on the way to victory where she said "the wind changed every couple of minutes. It was very tricky."
Radwanska has started the season well, winning in Sydney and Auckland and reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. Having reached the Wimbledon final last year, she feels ready to challenge for the No. 1 ranking.
"It's always a little bit of pressure, but I think this is the dream for everyone to be in the final of a Grand Slam and, of course, to be No. 1 in the world," she said. "I was really close to that last year, and definitely I'm going to try to do it this year."
Several seeded players lost, including the 16th-seeded Stephens. Ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-4, while No. 17 Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic was upset 6-4, 6-2 by Christina McHale of the United States. Urszula Radwanska, the sister of Agnieszka, upset 15th-seeded Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-2, 5-7, 6-0.
Wozniacki saved four set points in the tiebreaker before going up 1-0 when Cirstea hit a crosscourt backhand wide. The Dane then broke Cirstea three times.
"In the second set, I came off really strongly and probably crushed the last of her beliefs in that match," Wozniacki said.