BRISBANE, Australia - How many players reach their first WTA semifinal at a $1,000,000, Premier-level tournament? Not many - but Lesia Tsurenko is one of that rare breed, prevailing in a tight two-setter against Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International on Thursday afternoon.
Tsurenko, a lucky loser in the draw after Maria Sharapova withdrew injured two days ago, beat Jarmila Gajdosova in her second round match on Wednesday and followed it up with a 63 64 win over Hantuchova on Thursday, winning the first four games of the match en route to taking the first set then showing her fight in the second set, rallying from 4-2 down to finish it off in straight sets.
"Like I've said many times this week, it's the first time in my life as a lucky loser, and it was really a surprise for me to take the spot of Maria Sharapova and be in the second round of such a huge tournament," Tsurenko said. "Maybe I felt some pressure yesterday when I went on center court, but that's it - once that was over I didn't feel any pressure anymore. I'm just enjoying everything now.
"That was my chance and I'm just trying to taking it."
Before this, Tsurenko's best ever result on the WTA was a quarterfinal at Memphis last February.
Next up for the No.116-ranked Ukrainian is another surprise quantity, though not nearly as big of a surprise: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The No.36-ranked Russian continued her path through the seeds, following up a second round win over No.6 seed Petra Kvitova with a 76(3) 76(3) quarterfinal win over No.4 seed Angelique Kerber, with big success on her first serve - she won 79% of her first serve points.
"I didn't expect these results would come so fast after my tough pre-season, my first tournament of the year," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I'm really, really happy I could pull through in this match. She's definitely a great fighter and defends so well, so I had to be aggressive the whole match today and it worked."
Pavlyuchenkova has been as high as No.13 in the world, but 2012 was a tough one.
"Last year was really up and down for me, really annoying," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I had a nice rest and started over, like a clean sheet. I was working on everything in the pre-season, and then little by little this week I've just been enjoying every match and fighting on the court, seeing how it goes.
"I'm in the semis right now, so I'm really happy how it has all turned out."
Tsurenko has been impressed with Pavlyuchenkova's play. "She's in really good shape now," Tsurenko said. "She's playing well, really well - she beat a few Top 10 players already. I have nothing to lose, so again I'll just try to show my best tennis and enjoy each point and each minute on center court."
Victoria Azarenka - the World No.1, and the top seed this week - followed them into the semifinals with a 69-minute, 61 60 demolition of Ksenia Pervak. "It was pretty good," Azarenka said. "Even though we had some tough games in the match, I felt I was playing really well and in the important moments I took my chances and closed out the games. I think that was the key to winning today as well."
"She definitely pushed me - I've always said she's a really good player," Williams said. "She plays really well. She's really calm, something I have never been in my whole career. It shows a lot of maturity."
Azarenka and Williams will be playing for the 13th time and Williams leads the head-to-head, 11-1.
"I want to thank Sloane for giving me such a great match, because I'm going up against another good player - great player - tomorrow," Williams said of Azarenka. "I have to make sure I'm ready. I always feel like I have nothing to lose, especially going against Victoria, who I think has been the most consistent player the last year. I have nothing to prove. I'll just go out there and do the best I can."