NEW YORK, NY, USA - Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova dazzled the Ashe Stadium crowds Friday with unrelenting third round performances, continuing their collision course towards a semifinal clash at the US Open.
The No.3-seeded Sharapova was the first to advance, routing college tennis star Mallory Burdette in her first ever match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 61 61.
"She came out, she has pretty huge groundstrokes, and she likes to go for it," Sharapova said of Burdette. "She's certainly somebody who could be dangerous if you give her the time to do what she likes to do. I expected her to play a big, solid match - but overall I was able to play a pretty solid match today."
Next up for Sharapova will be No.19 seed Nadia Petrova, who pulled off a minor upset over No.15 seed Lucie Safarova, 64 75 - a minor upset not just because they were only separated by four spots in the seedings, but because Petrova had actually won four of the pair's five previous encounters.
"She's been playing really good tennis here - I just saw a little bit of her match against Safarova," Sharapova said. "She's someone who likes the faster courts, especially in New York, and I've had some tough matches against her.
"Although I have a good record, they have always been tough matches, and we have gone to three-setters and tough two-setters. She has a big game and a great serve - she's just a difficult opponent. I look forward to that challenge."
The No.1-seeded Azarenka unleashed an even more dominating performance, crushing No.28 seed Zheng Jie in the night session on Ashe, 60 61.
"I was expecting a tough match, but I felt like I really focused on each point and wasn't really aware of what the score was," Azarenka said in her post-match presser. "I was just trying to keep that determination and keep dominating her, not really letting her into the match, because I know she can turn things around.
"She has that type of game where she is a shotmaker as well. It was very important to keep her away from that so she loses a little bit of courage."
It was Azarenka's first night match at the US Open. "The other day I played really late on Armstrong in my first match, but it wasn't really the night session. When you know it's the real night session, you feel the buzz, the energy. It was amazing to play in front of this crowd, the biggest tennis stadium in the world.
"The energy... you just don't want to leave."
Azarenka was asked if she might have drawn some energy from Andy Roddick's win right before her, in a match that could have been his last. "He played incredible today. You could feel how energetic he was, so it kind of did inspire me a little bit more today. I think I felt it when I got out there on the court.
"Yesterday I was watching ESPN and suddenly Andy says he's retiring. I was like, 'What? What's going on here?' I was shocked. I mean, it's sad, but he definitely has a good shot with the game he was showing tonight."
Next for Azarenka will be surprise second weeker Anna Tatishvili, who beat Mandy Minella in another late match, 75 60. Minella actually led 5-3 in the first set and had a set point in the next game but Tatishvili won the last 10 games of the match to become the first Georgian woman to reach the second week of the US Open since Leila Meskhi went that far all the way back in 1994.
"I had never been in the third round of a Grand Slam before so I was very nervous, before the match and during it," Tatishvili said. "I don't think I played my best tennis but I kept my head straight and was very patient. I think Mandy was rushing a couple shots and missed some here and there today."
Tatishvili was thrilled to break through here. "I lived here when I was younger for a little bit, my aunt lives here, and a lot of my close friends live here," she said. "It's kind of like my third home, so it's a good place to do it for the first time."
Azarenka and Tatishvili will be playing each other for the first time.