DOHA, Qatar - Victoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur were the first two quarterfinal winners at the Qatar Total Open on Friday, Azarenka cruising in straight sets but Stosur surviving some tense moments to advance.
The No.3-seeded Stosur advanced first, escaping crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu in three sets, 62 26 63. After dropping the second set Stosur looked in more trouble as she served at 3-all in the third set, falling behind 0-30 - but she shifted gears from there, winning 12 of the next 13 points for a fast finish.
"Early in the second set I missed some opportunities. She grew in confidence and started playing better," Stosur said. "It's one of those matches where when you are in control, you have to keep going and keep going and keep going, and know you're going to miss a few but you're going to make more than you miss.
"Monica plays a unique game that at times can put you off, but at the end of the day I'm happy with the way I bounced back in the middle of that third set."
Azarenka, the No.1 player in the world and top seed at the Premier-level event, continued her perfect start to 2012 with a 60 64 win over Yanina Wickmayer. Azarenka powered through the first set in just 21 minutes but faced more resistance in the 47-minute second set - the end result was the same though.
"I would consider the first set as a perfect set. I was really going for every shot I could and everything was working," Azarenka said. "In the second set I had opportunities in every game, I just couldn't convert them. But it's important the way I finished the second set. It was the same way as I started the match.
"Yanina came back and started to go for her shots, which I expected from her."
In the second set, Wickmayer twice broke to get things back on serve, but every time Azarenka broke back again, showing impressive mental strength.
"Last year at this time I was a little bit of a mess. I couldn't control any of my emotions," Azarenka said. "That's one thing when I came back after Doha to Indian Wells I had to change, my mentality on the court, the way I approach a match, the way I approach tough moments. Now, I don't try to think about why something is happening to me. I just try to accept it and deal with it.
"I just try to stay really focused on each moment because it doesn't matter what the score is, you always have a chance until the match is done."
Azarenka was asked about her improved fitness. "I cannot say some magic thing that really worked, it's just a combination of whole-body workout. Tennis is a sport where you use every aspect of your body. Not only footwork, not only power, it's also explosivity, speed and strength. We did a very good evaluation and program to balance everything and make me a better tennis athlete."
Also coming up in press was her recent penchant for photography on Twitter. "Yeah, there are some ugly ones; there are some beautiful ones. I do love to take photos and I have a friend who is going to teach me a little bit to be more professional, because everything I do I try to do it as professionally as possible. So hopefully I will learn more and maybe you will see my work one day."
Stosur and Azarenka's semifinal opponents were determined later in the day, with Stosur playing No.5 seed Marion Bartoli or Lucie Safarova and Azarenka playing No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Christina McHale.