Victoria AzarenkaThe three and four seeds, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka, lead the march toward the crown in the $2 million Dubai Open but they have some work to do before claiming the title. Two formidable roadblocks stand in the way. In a tournament of upsets, only Azarenka and Williams have played consistently.

Top seeds Caroline Wozniacki (1) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) and Jalena Jankovic (6) were all eliminated in the third round. Last week’s Paris Champion Elena Dementieva (5) was forced to retire in her second round match.

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For Wozniacki, the world’s third ranked player, the loss was particularly upsetting but seems to be setting a pattern of futility. Wozniacki, who won more tour matches than any other player last year, is off to a slow start this season. This is the first time the Danish beauty has been the top seed in a tour event. With the powerful Belgian entry of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters ranked well below her, skepticism surrounds the validity of many of the tour’s top seeds.

Wozniacki went down at the hands of tour veteran Shahar Peer, 6-2, 7-5. Peer followed the upset with another, turning the tables on China’s bulldog, Na Li who was forced to retire in the quarters 7-5, 3-0. Peer, more noted for her doubles play, will face the smooth playing Venus Williams in today’s semifinal.

Williams has been flawless, polishing off Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4. The Russian had beaten Williams in two matches last year. In the end, the trademark Venus serve was too much on the hard surface for Anastasia.

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Victoria Azarenka coasted to a surprisingly easy quarterfinal win over hot playing Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-3. Zvonareva won last week and seemed to be on a roll after dusting of the over-rated Jankovic. Azarenka simply overpowered Vera in the one-hour match.

Azarenka will be a strong favorite over her close friend Agnieszka Radwanska who fought off a grueling challenge from Regina Kulikova 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Kulikova had a three hour win over two-time Grand Slam Champion Kuznetsova 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4. The Russian is fast becoming known as the tour’s marathon woman.

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Radwanska needed more than 2 hours to finish off Regina. This semifinal will pair the two 20-year old pals against each other. They have split their four previous encounters. Azarenka seems in top form and, at this point looks the likely winner of the event.


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