MIAMI, FL, USA - Victoria Azarenka fought to the ends of the Earth to keep her perfect year going Monday night, overcoming a seemingly insurmountable 61 40 deficit and an inspired Dominika Cibulkova to improve to 26-0 on the year and reach the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open, 16 76(7) 75.
A year ago in Miami, Azarenka had to battle back from 63 31 down to get past the fiery Cibulkova, and this time it was an even bigger deficit but she made it again. The World No.1 came from 4-0 down to win the second set in a tie-break; the two stayed relatively even throughout the third set but it was Azarenka who made that final push, breaking at 5-all on a Cibulkova double fault then serving it out, Cibulkova missing a sitter forehand long on match point.
"It kinda felt like she closed her eyes and just went for everything, and me, I couldn't open my eyes. I was blinded a little bit," Azarenka said. "But my coach came to the court, kicked me a little bit that I had to at least try to change something, because it was like a snowball, and I kept rolling with the same match and wasn't adjusting. In the end I was trying to change something. But it was more about fighting in my heart today rather than any other shot.
"I definitely wasn't thinking about the streak, that's for sure."
The missed forehand on match point was just a small blip for Cibulkova - she had a whopping 46 winners in the match, most of them coming off that wing. By contrast, Azarenka had just 15 winners (but far fewer errors, 38 to 53).
"I have to give all the credit to her. She played some splendid tennis and was hitting every possible line there was," Azarenka said. "A match like this gives you a little bit of understanding that no matter what, you still have a chance. You just have to keep fighting until they call it game, set and match."
Azarenka and Cibulkova have gone to three sets in their last five meetings, but Azarenka has won four of them (and leads the overall series, 7-1).
Next up for Azarenka is No.7 seed Marion Bartoli, who cruised past No.22 seed Maria Kirilenko earlier in the day, 61 62, blasting seven aces and winning more than twice as many points as her Russian opponent (56 to 24).
"I had a really tough match yesterday against Simona Halep but it helped me to come out onto the court sharper today," Bartoli said. "Maria's game suits me well, which helped too. But it was still a tough match. There were some close games and I had to win them to make the score look easier than it really was."
No.4 seed Caroline Wozniacki and No.5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska were also among the winners during the day session, Wozniacki serving her only ace of the match on her seventh set point in the first set then rolling past No.23 seed Yanina Wickmayer, 76(6) 60, and Radwanska needing just 68 minutes to end the breakthrough run of Spanish teenager Garbiñe Muguruza Blanco, 63 62.
"In the second set I just took off from the first point," Wozniacki said. "The first set was a very high level from both of us. I wasn't able to take my chances at 6-5, but I'm happy I finished it in the tie-break. I was going for that ace."
Wozniacki next faces No.10 seed Serena Williams, who won earlier in the day. Williams has beaten Wozniacki in all three previous meetings, though one was a retirement and Wozniacki held match points in another.
"I really, really, really, really like Caroline as a person and as a girl and as someone on the tour," Williams said of the Dane. "I like her a lot. She's a good girl and it will be a tough match. It will be like going out there against a good friend. I always said if I can play Venus, then I'm okay playing anybody."