Williams not too nervous to play Sharapova; Erakovic stuns defending champ Azarenka


By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Serena Williams found herself sitting close to teenage idol Justin Bieber at the recent ESPY Awards. She said she was just too nervous to introduce herself to him.

"I wanted to meet him so badly," Williams said after beating Russian Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, Thursday in the $721,000 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Center. "I was just so stupid though. I saw Maria (Sharapova) there and wished she was sitting next to me. Maybe I could have worked myself up better."

Williams never did meet Bieber, but she'll get a chance to play with Sharapova in Friday night's marquee quarterfinal match in a battle of former world number one players.

"I'm sure we'll both go out and do the best each of us can," Williams said. "It's nothing personal. It's my job and I want to get paid. I leave it on the court."

Williams is playing her third tournament since winning at Wimbledon last year, and the first tournament on U.S. soil since the 2009 U.S. Open. She missed nearly a year following right foot surgery.

She took a medical timeout during her match against Kirilenko to get her left ankle retaped after a blister formed and that gave her some problems.

Kirilenko took advantage to win the second set and take the first game of the third set.

"I was a little sluggish out there," Williams said. "I got upset and started playing well enough to win. I started out fine but after that injury timeout I was sluggish."

Williams said she won't be happy unless she wins. That's her mindset every time she takes the court.

"If I say I just want to play well, it's a lie," she said. "Would I be happy about losing? When I'm playing I get a little psycho and on the edge."

As for Bieber, Williams said she's a fan, period.

"I'm a cougar but not that much," she quipped.

In an earlier match, New Zealand's Marina Erakovic stunned top-seeded and defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, to reach her second quarterfinal of the year.

That assures there will be no repeat champion. Kim Clijsters (2005-06) was the last to win back-to-back titles.

The 121st-ranked Erakovic, a qualifier, recorded her first win over a top-20 opponent and has won 24 of her last 28 matches.

"Coming in I knew I had to be the aggressor and try to dictate the pace," Erakovic said. "I knew the court and I felt like I was hitting the ball well."

The fourth-ranked Azarenka, who beat Sharapova in last year's Classic final, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in her last tournament.

Japan's Ayumui Morita recovered to beat qualifier Urszula Radwanska of Poland 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 and will next face Marion Bartoli at noon Friday.

Germany's Sabine Lisicki recorded 13 aces to help beat fourth-seeded Samantha Stosur, 6-3, 7-5, and will play Agnieszka Radwanska at 2 p.m.

Azarenka had won 33 of her previous 40 matches before falling to Erakovic, who will face Dominika Cibulkova. She suffered her first two-match losing streak since February and just her second of the year.

The 23-year-old Erakovic, born in Croatia, qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon and won her first round match. She also qualified for the French Open.

After missing six months due to a hip injury in 2009, Erakovic returned to the ITF circuit, where she has won 12 singles titles.

"I went into a slump just before the injury and was beginning to question whether this tennis thing was for me," Erakovic said. "The injury made me realize how much I love tennis and that's when I committed myself. Coming back I feel like I can compete with the best."

Erakovic opened this year 3-4, failing to qualify for a pair of tournaments and losing in the first round of two others. She went back to the ITF circuit in late February, winning three titles in five weeks before making her run at Roland Garros.

"You want to get in a lot of matches and that's a good place to go when you're not feeling your game," Erakovic said. "Even in the ITF the girls are good. The girls can hit the ball."

She's currently ranked as high as she's been since her injury.

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