DOHA, Qatar - In Doha in 2009, Victoria Azarenka succumbed to pressure and injury and lost a dramatic match to Agnieszka Radwanska. Facing the very same trials on the very same court in 2012 she showed she is now one of the most unbreakable players on the WTA, overcoming it all and closing out Radwanska to move into the final of the Premier-level Qatar Total Open.
The pair's only previous meeting in Doha came at the WTA Championships three years ago, with Azarenka squandering a 64 52 lead and eventually retiring from the match due to cramping down 46 75 41; there were strange similarities this time, as not only did Azarenka tweak her ankle during the match, but Radwanska closed in from 62 52 to 62 54 towards the end of the match - but Azarenka was rock solid this time, serving out a 62 64 victory at love.
In her on-court interview, Azarenka was asked about the mid-match injury. "I was so shocked when it happened. I don't know how it happened," she said. "But I just focused on each point until the painkillers kicked in and I'm happy to pull it out. If it went to a third set I don't know what would have happened.
"Personally this win means a lot, because before I probably would have handled the situation differently. I'm proud I could adjust in a very, very difficult situation."
"I didn't see what happened, but afterwards I saw her laying down," Radwanska said. "It happens. It's tennis, it's a lot of running, a lot of matches. And injuries are normal things. Sometimes it happens on the court during matches. And I was trying until the end but she was playing very well and hitting the ball very well. It's disappointing, but making the semifinals is not a bad thing."
Both players finished with similar unforced errors, Azarenka 22 and Radwanska 21, but Azarenka's winners far outweighed Radwanska's: 29 to 9. Azarenka now leads her fellow 22-year-old in their head-to-head series, 8-3.
There was injury trouble earlier in the day in the other semifinal but this time that player wasn't able to make it through, as Marion Bartoli succumbed to a right calf injury against Sam Stosur. After breaking for 3-2 in the first set Bartoli seemed to lose control of the match, as Stosur won four games to take the set, 6-3; Bartoli was serving in the first game of the second set when she stopped.
"It actually started yesterday during the match against Lucie. In the third set I felt like my right calf was starting to cramp and I had to make sure I finished that third set very quickly," Bartoli said. "Today when I started to warm up I still felt it, so I knew I was not 100% going into the match. Then I couldn't put any weight on it, so it was really hurting me on my serve and on every movement when I was having to change directions and push off from the feet.
"The more I was playing the tighter it was getting. I knew if I kept pushing on it I would really strain it badly, because when your muscle is so tight, that happens. I'm just not a machine. My body just couldn't do anymore."
Stosur was sympathetic but still took the positives out of it. "You always want to win a match playing the full match out and winning match point. Having said that, I thought I played a really good first set - I thought both of us were playing really well, high quality. So I'm happy with the match we had tonight."
After losing early in her first three WTA events of the year, Stosur is now through to the final of her fourth, in fact her first Premier final since winning the US Open. "I did everything I could have to prepare for Australia, and no doubt I was very tense and got nervous and just wasn't able to play and swing freely at the ball when I was out there. I really paid the price for feeling like that.
"This week I've tried to stay relaxed and be a lot more loose. When I'm able to be like that, my tennis flows. Then when I want to hit a forehand, I can get out there and whack it. My feet move better and everything about my tennis is just better. No doubt the mental side plays a huge part in your results."
Stosur guaranteed herself of becoming the first Australian woman to cross $10 million in career prize money earnings by reaching the semifinals Friday.
The final match-up heavily favors one player - Azarenka has won all five of her previous meetings with Stosur in straight sets, many of them routinely.