If anything was going to help Victoria Azarenka pull out of her season-long slide, an upset-ridden U.S. Open seemed to present a golden opportunity, a respite from playing some of the game's more dangerous players.
But considering the state of Azarenka's game and her health, which was sidetracked by food poisoning Tuesday, it did not take one of those top players to shove her from the tournament. What it took was a solid effort from 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals to craft a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Azarenka, the No. 16 seed. That left Azarenka to contemplate how far she has fallen since reaching the U.S. Open final last year.
The flip side of Azarenka's disappointment was Makarova's glee over making her first Grand Slam semifinal. To get there, she bounced No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round, and now Azarenka, and all without dropping a set in the tournament.
"I am feeling amazing," Makarova said. "Finally I am in the semifinals. I have had like five chances in Grand Slams and finally I am here. It's a great feeling."
Makarova, 26, has long been a strong player on the women's tour, but despite her very good serve and the special challenge she poses as a lefthander, she has never broken through to the top level. She has done well in doubles - she and partner Elena Vesnina won the French Open last year and are also in the doubles semifinals here - but she has been slow reaching the top in singles.
"Before maybe I didn't believe that much that I can came through," she said. "Today definitely was a different feeling, and I really believed to myself that I'm ready to go forward, you know, and to be in the semis."
Azarenka was feeling anything but good in this match. She lost the first set on her serve despite being up 40-15 in that game, and when she had her serve broken again in the sixth game of the second set, she slammed her racket onto the court. She would not, however, blame any of that on her illness, although her manager said she spent much of Tuesday vomiting.
"I don't really want to talk about it," Azarenka said. "I just, you know, want to give credit to my opponent. She played reallyÂ well today. Am I disappointed? Yes, I'm disappointed. But I feel like I tried my best with whatever I had. I just want to wish her good luck."
Makarova turns out to be a major beneficiary of the upsets that have rocked the women's draw. The only player among the top nine seeds who made the quarterfinals is No. 1 Serena Williams.
But Makarova has not exactly backed into her spot, having played only one set she was even close to losing, a first-set tiebreaker against Bouchard.
Makarova, who calls herself Kate for English-speaking fans, has long been in the shadow of more prominent Russian players, particularly Maria Sharapova. But quietly, Makarova has worked her way up the rankings, where she sits at a career-high 18th.
"I think I'm trying to stay in the shade, you know, a little bit, to be in my world," she said. "I'm not using that much like social networks. Yeah, I can say that I'm maybe closed a little bit. But I'm really enjoying to play on the big stage, the big courts with all this crowd. I'm feeling differently than in other places."
At the U.S. Open, she has used her dangerous left-handed serve to befuddle opponents. Against Azarenka, she faced only four break points, losing one, and generally powered through her service games while Azarenka fought to hold her serve in almost every game.
Makarova is not a revelation to any of the players on tour, thanks to her long, steady career, but until now she has not had the weapons to advance past the top players. She was 0-4 in her previous Grand Slam quarterfinals but reached at least the third round in all four majors for the first time this year.
With Azarenka toppled, Makarova will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between Williams and No. 11 Flavia Pennetta.
Azarenka will again be left on the outside looking in. She started the year ranked No. 2, but a slide was kicked off when she lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Agnieszka Radwanska. Her season went from bad to worse as a recurring foot injury forced her to withdraw from six tournaments, including the French Open. At Wimbledon, she lost in the second round.
"Of course it is disappointing," Azarenka said. "It just is what it is today. It's not the end of the world. It's something I can take positive from this tournament, you know. Two months ago I didn't even think that I was going to be able to play today."
Â© 2014 New York Times News Service