Sharapova outlasts Dementieva in 3 sets; Azarenka beats defending champion Bartoli

Maria Sharapova outlasted fellow Russian Elena Dementieva, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, in a match Friday night that lasted 2 hours, 47 minutes in the quarterfinals of the Bank of the Classic.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova improved to 6-3 against top 10 competition since returning from shoulder surgery last May. She advanced to her fourth semifinal of the year.

"I wasn't swinging through well," Sharapova said. "Sometimes my arm doesn't want to swing. I didn't want to let up on my serve, though. I wanted to keep going for it. When things aren't going that well, you keep doing the right things and hope it turns around."

It was another classic battle between two of the top Russians in the women's game, and the longest match of the tournament. The 15th-ranked Sharapova leads the series against the second-seeded and sixth-ranked Dementieva 9-3 after playing a third set for the first time since the 2004 meeting in Zurich, and third overall.

"I think it was a good match. I feel like I played much better than my first match," Dementieva said. "I think my serve wasn't good enough and she was serving very well. It was a pretty tough game."

Dementieva played in her first tournament since the French Open because of a right shoulder injury.

"This is what I was hoping for, to play a few tough matches here," she said, "to feel the competition and feel the game. Hopefully the next time it's going to help me."

Victoria Azarenka beat defending champion Marion Bartoli 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in another quarterfinal match, ending the Frenchwoman's run of eight straight victories in the event.

"Every single game was tough," Bartoli said. "It was hard to win some easy points because I was fighting and running so much. This was a very high quality game and she just was a little better than me. She was beating me easily the last three times, so there was some improvement."

Azarenka advanced to her fourth semifinal of the year. The 18th-ranked Belarusian will face top-seeded Samantha Stosur, a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 winner over No. 7 Yanina Wickmayer.

Stosur, from Australia, is playing in her first tournament since breaking into the top five in the world. She leads the tour with 37 wins this year.

Azarenka, seeded eighth and ranked 18th, improved to 4-0 against Bartoli, the No. 4 seed.

"She has improved her game," Azarenka said. "It was a very tough game. It was important to change the rhythm with her and make her move."

Bartoli was up 2-0 in the second set, but Azarenka won seven consecutive games to take control of the match.

"She started the match well, was hitting hard and making so many winners," Azarenka said. "I was trying to stay out there and find my game. It finally went my way."

Azarenka, who turns 21 on Saturday, improved to 17-5 on hard courts this year. All three of her career titles have been on hard courts.

"We've had a couple of close matches, and there were some where she absolutely killed me," said Stosur, who reached her sixth semifinal of the year. "The way she plays gives me problems but my game is different than the last time we played."

Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland beat Belarus' Maria Kirilenko, 7-5, 6-0, in another quarterfinal and, as a result, projects to move back into the top 10 when the rankings are released next week.

"I think the first set was the key in this match," Radwanska said. "It was very close, very long and I think she was upset losing that first set. I felt much more comfortable in the second set, knowing that I was one set ahead. But you still have to be very focused up until the last point."