PARIS, France - She had already been to the semifinals or better at all the other Grand Slams, and now she finally has the whole collection. Victoria Azarenka scraped out a tight first set and rolled past Maria Kirilenko in the second set to move through to the final four of the clay court Grand Slam.
There wasn't much separating the two in the 76-minute first set - they broke each other in the first four games of the match but went into a holding pattern from there, with Kirilenko getting a foot in the door by breaking for 6-5. But the No.3-seeded Azarenka broke right back to shut that door, and after cruising through a tie-break she ran away with it, closing out the No.12-seeded Kirilenko, 76(3) 62.
"Whoever got the first set, it made a big difference - in the second set I was much more dominant," Azarenka said. "In the first set I wasn't that committed to my shots, especially at the beginning. And I feel like Maria has improved so much, so I just really had to start taking my opportunities more. One or two points really decided the first set, especially in the beginning of the tie-break - the way I started was really dominant. I think that's really how I was supposed to play the entire match, to be honest.
"After that, that's what I kept trying to apply."
"I'm very happy that I could finally pass this stage on my third attempt," Azarenka commented. "Maria is such a great competitor, and I couldn't be happier to go into my first semifinal here in Paris."
The quarterfinal pit two good friends against each other, as well as doubles partners - they had won three Premier-level doubles titles together before, as well as reached an Australian Open final.
"I feel like we are pretty close friends - I'm always happy to see her, and we talk outside the court as well," Azarenka said. "Of course on the court it's all about winning the match. She's very demanding when she goes on court, as I am too. But off the court she's a very sweet girl. I really like her.
"We thought we would try playing doubles together before and we had so much fun together. She's definitely my favorite doubles partner I've ever had. We just enjoyed it so much and connected."
Speaking of good friends, does Azarenka now consider herself getting friendlier with clay?
"I still don't have any ring on my finger, but I feel like we've made a step forward," she said. "We are moving in together. It's that kind of relationship - we're moving forward and we'll see what happens."
Next up is No.2 seed Maria Sharapova, who beat No.18 seed Jelena Jankovic in her quarterfinal match (read more here). Azarenka leads Sharapova in their head-to-head, 7-5, including 2-0 at the majors.
"I know it's going to be a very tough match against the defending champion," Azarenka said. "It's our first meeting here, so it's definitely going to be exciting and interesting. It's a matter of really applying my game and not really allowing Maria to step up - she loves to hit the first two shots and make you run after the ball. So we are kind of similar and kind of different in the same way. It will be a battle."