Samantha Stosur played her best match of the U.S. Open Tuesday, one in which she was particularly proud. Still, it wasn't enough.
In a match that was engagingly tight and superbly played, the defending Open women's champion fell for the seventh straight time in her career to Victoria Azarenka, the world's No. 1 and the No. 1 seed here.
Azarenka came away with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5) win that put her in the Open semifinals for the first time. She will play the winner of the match between Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli, which was pushed to Wednesday because of rain with Bartoli leading 4-0 in the first set.
For Stosur, the pleasure of superior play took away some of the sting of a tough loss. "There is always going to be disappointment when you lose [in the] quarters of the U.S. Open," she said. "But I have to say I'm really pleased with the way I played. I thought it was a really, really good match, and there was, what, a point or two [separating us]. I'm really happy with the way I played out there, and I gave it everything I had."
It was also Azarenka's best match of the tournament, and she needed it. "For sure, she really pushed me hard to dig deep," said Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in January. "We really fought hard. I felt like there wasn't something, somebody missing. It was always somebody had to grab the opportunity, to provoke mistakes . . . I think that the quality of tennis was really high, and it was tense because it could go either way."
The first set seemed like just another chapter in Azarenka's dominance over Stosur. In her six previous victories over Stosur, Azarenka lost only one set and her two-set victories were virtual walkovers. Azarenka broke Stosur at love in the first game of the match and again on Stosur's second service game to run to a 4-0 lead by holding her own serve twice.
But after a rain delay between the first and second sets, Stosur dug in her tennis shoes. She broke Azarenka to start the second, then lost her serve again. Stosur used her racket to smack the heel of her right shoe in frustration, a "thwack" that could be heard at the top of Ashe Stadium. After holding serve in the sixth game with a tough get that produced a big forehand, Stosur broke Azarenka in the seventh game and served out the set.
Starting with Stosur's service in the third game of the third set, there were four consecutive breaks with the pair exchanging long, teeth-clenching rallies. At 5-5 on Azarenka's serve, she delivered her only ace of the match to cancel a break point.
Azarenka ran out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreak, and Stosur fought back to 5-5. On the 11th point, a Stosur ground stroke hit the net cord, setting up Azarenka for an easy pass. Azarenka's deep forcing forehand closed the match.
That she had given up the 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker did not sit well with Azarenka. "You don't want to know what I was telling myself," she said. "I would have to bleep that . . . I kept telling myself, 'Don't be a chicken, c'mon, just go for your shots.' "
Just what she's been doing in this stellar season.