NEW YORK: Victoria Azarenka struck a blow for the younger generation by beating Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-3 to join a trio of 31-year-olds in the semifinals of the US Open on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old Belarusian, the second seed and runner-up last year, will play unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta, while defending champion Serena Williams meets Li Na of China in Thursday’s semifinals.
“It was a little bit tricky out there with the wind and Daniela is the kind of player who doesn’t give you much rhythm,” said the former world number one Azarenka.
“So you really have to try to make it happen in one or two shots in the beginning, so that’s what I was trying to do.”
Pennetta reached her first grand slam semi on Wednesday by beating longtime friend and Fed Cup team mate Roberta Vinci, the 10th-seeded 30-year-old, 6-4, 6-1.
France’s Richard Gasquet, meanwhile, booked a long awaited return to the last four of a men’s slam with an upset of fourth seed David Ferrer.
Eighth-seeded Gasquet advanced to the semifinals stage for the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon championships with a thrilling 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory in a slugfest against the Spaniard.
It was the second successive five-setter for the 27-year-old Gasquet, who clinched the concluding set of a marathon fourth-round match against big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-5.
Gasquet, who had lost eight of nine previous matches against Ferrer, will meet Rafael Nadal, who crushed Spanish compatriot Tommy Robredo 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.
World number two Nadal, the 2010 champion, took his hardcourt streak this year to 20-0 and his match record to an astonishing 58-3 with nine titles since his return in February after a seven-month injury layoff.
In a ruthless one hour, 40 minute demolition of Robredo, who had knocked out five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, the 27-year-old French Open champion took his perfect run of unbroken service games to 67 at the tournament.
Playing in just the second grand slam quarterfinal of his career, 27-year-old Gasquet used his trademark one-handed backhand to near perfection as he closed out Ferrer in three hours and 23 minutes.
Gasquet broke the Spaniard, a model of consistency with trips to the quarters or better in the last eight slams, on a double fault at break point to seize a 4-2 lead in the fifth set.
He ended the match with a bristling forehand for his 52nd winner.
“He had a bad game at 3-2 for me. I was a little nervous about getting into the semis at the US Open, but I did it. Was a big win for me,” he said.
Nadal romped through the first set in just 22 minutes, allowing Robredo only five points, and was 2-0 up in the second before the 31-year-old got on the board.
Another break in the seventh game helped Nadal on his way to a two-set lead and breaks in the fifth and seventh games of the third helped put Robredo out of his misery.
It was the shortest US Open quarterfinal since 1988, when Ivan Lendl beat Derrick Rostagno.
Nadal finished with 28 winners to Robredo’s 10 and didn’t give up a single break point as the world number two claimed an eighth win in eight meetings against his countryman, who has only won one set during that one-sided series. (Reuters)