NEW YORK — Victoria Azarenka and Stan Wawrinka, both two-time Grand Slam champions, make trips to the U.S. Open quarterfinals an annual affair.
Their experience showed Monday against American opponents who don’t know how it feels to go that far at a major.
Azarenka, whose ranking is down to 20th after two injury-plagued seasons, is starting to look like the player who took Serena Williams to three sets in the final at Flushing Meadows in 2012 and ’13. On Monday, she won 6-3, 6-4 over 46th-ranked American Varvara Lepchenko, who had reached her first U.S. Open round of 16.
”My game was not really a problem. It was just being able to find your rhythm and find the way to apply that game on the certain moments in the tough situations,” Azarenka said. ”So I think that was more of – I wouldn’t say mental, but just more of a consistency.”
Wawrinka had a few more tense moments against another American who has never been past the fourth round at a major.
Donald Young had come from behind in his three previous matches, twice rallying from down two sets, but Wawrinka’s power and poise never gave him much of a chance to do it again no matter how loud the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd roared. The fifth-seeded Wawrinka won 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, taking control in the final two sets behind his bigger serve.
Young, currently ranked 68th, had upset Wawrinka in five sets in the second round of the 2011 U.S. Open. Wawrinka is a different player now, though, winning the 2014 Australian Open and this year’s French Open.
His signature backhand deserted him at times Monday and he smashed a racket after getting broken for the first time in the second set. But he faced just two break points in the final two sets, both coming when he was already up 5-1 in the third.
”I start the third set really right again,” Wawrinka said. ”I was physically there trying to play again more aggressive the way I start the match.”
Wawrinka next faces Andy Murray or Kevin Anderson. The most anticipated men’s match of the day closes out the night session with another Swiss-American showdown: Roger Federer against John Isner.
Azarenka introduced a new fashion statement to Ashe: gauze wrapped around both biceps. She joked in an on-court interview that after throwing around a football Sunday – she does it for fun and to help with her service motion – she wanted to look tough like an NFL player.
The real reason was ”really a little bit embarrassing,” Azarenka conceded. The skin on the inside of her arms had been chafing against her top.
”It’s so weird,” she said.
Azarenka will play second-seeded Simona Halep, who had never been to a U.S. Open quarterfinal herself but does know how it feels to play deep into a major, losing the 2014 French Open final.
Halep gritted out a three-set victory over Sabine Lisicki, the 2013 Wimbledon runner-up. She won 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2 in 2 hours, 38 minutes on a hot afternoon, with both players limping around by the third set.
Halep had her left thigh wrapped after wasting two set points in the first. With Lisicki a point from forcing a second-set tiebreaker, the players staged an 18-shot rally. Halep was hobbling by the end but somehow chased down a ball in the corner and got it back, and with the whole court in front of her to hit a winner, Lisicki netted a backhand. Halep doubled over in pain and stretched her leg, yet still managed to go on to win the game to force a third set.
It was one of 10 times she broke the big-serving Lisicki, who had a whopping 72 unforced errors.
After a 10-minute break because of the heat, the 24th-seeded Lisicki was the one struggling to move in the third set as she started cramping.