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Azarenka digs deep again
Victoria Azarenka is missing her groove but happy to be finding a way through the tournament after another tough battle to beat Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round.
The second seed came into the US Open on the back of a victory over Serena Williams in the final in Cincinnati but has struggled to find her best form in New York.
In the third round she lost the first set to France's Alize Cornet before fighting back, and it was the same story against Ivanovic as she ground out a 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory after two hours and 10 minutes.
Azarenka said: "I think it's a process. You start a tournament a certain way and you find the ways how to make it better. From every round it gets tougher and tougher.
"So I don't expect or I never search for the feeling that I had maybe in Cincinnati or at the Australian Open or two years ago. It's not going to feel the same way."
The match had been due to be played yesterday but, to the bemusement of many, it was cancelled because of a lengthy rain delay, even though all the other singles matches were completed on schedule.
That could potentially put Azarenka at a disadvantage, with her quarter-final opponent Daniela Hantuchova having a day extra to prepare.
The Belarusian had no complaints, though, saying: "Mother Nature could have done something. She was crying yesterday, so there's nothing I could have done."
Ivanovic has been showing signs of the form that brought her the French Open title in 2008 and took her to world number one, but beating the very top players has proved a challenge too far.
With her fearsome forehand firing, the 13th seed took the first set, but Azarenka is one of the game's great fighters and she levelled the match.
The decider was a tortuous affair at times, with only three service games of 10 held.
Ivanovic saved two match points to get back to 5-4 adrift and then another on her own serve, but netted a backhand on Azarenka's fourth chance.
Serbian Ivanovic has made just one grand slam quarter-final - here last year - since her victory at Roland Garros five years ago.
The 25-year-old said: "I really played well. I put her a lot under pressure I felt. I think the biggest difference was the serve in the second set.
"My percentage went right down. I felt like I could break her but it was very frustrating that I was losing my serve constantly.
"It's very encouraging, because I know I'm right there with them. She's a top player. She just came from winning in Cincinnati. It's definitely a lot of positives to take from this week and this match.
"But it still doesn't change. It's disappointing and it hurts."
Azarenka remains a big favourite to repeat last year's run to the final, where she lost to Williams, with Hantuchova, Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta the other players left in her half.
She knows she must raise her game if she is to add a first US Open title to her two Australian Open crowns, but she said: "I felt like I was playing much better in the third set than in the first.
"I felt physically much better. I feel like the more a match goes on, the better I feel.
"So, for me, I'm not concerned about the slow start. It's just a matter of getting that groove. I feel like I just have to be a little more focused on those opportunities that I have to convert them."
Sixth seed Li Na was also given a real battle by Ekaterina Makarova but pulled away in the deciding set to reach her first US Open semi-final.
Big-hitting Russian left-hander Makarova had knocked out third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the previous round and she recovered from 4-2 down in the second set tie-break to level the match.
But Li, a former French Open winner and two-time Australian Open finalist, has been in impressive form this tournament and she came through 6-4 6-7 (5/7) 6-2.