New York - Victoria Azarenka struck a blow for the younger generation by beating Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-3 to join a trio of 31-year-olds in the semi-finals of the US Open on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old Belarusian, the second seed and runner-up last year, will play unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta, while defending champion Serena Williams meets Li Na of China in Friday's semi-finals.
Pennetta reached her first grand slam semi-final on Wednesday by beating longtime friend and Fed Cup team mate Roberta Vinci, the 10th-seeded 30-year-old, 6-4, 6-1.
“I'm a baby, what can I say?” Azarenka said courtside about joining the old guard in last four. “It's amazing to see such great players in the semi-finals.
“It's amazing to see athletes doing so well, their careers longer so fans and themselves can enjoy their careers much better. Everybody looks much fitter, really taking care of their body and taking the sport to the next level.”
France's Richard Gasquet, meanwhile, booked a long-awaited return to the last four of a men's slam with an upset of fourth seed David Ferrer.
Eighth-seeded Gasquet advanced to the semi-finals stage for the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon championships with a thrilling 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory in a slugfest against the Spaniard.
It was the second successive five-setter for the 27-year-old Gasquet, who clinched the concluding set of a marathon fourth-round match against big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-5.
Gasquet, who had lost eight of nine previous matches against Ferrer, will meet the winner of the all-Spanish quarter-final between second seed Rafa Nadal and Tommy Robredo.
Playing in just the second grand slam quarter-final of his career, 27-year-old Gasquet used his trademark one-handed backhand to near perfection as he closed out Ferrer in three hours and 23 minutes.
Gasquet broke the Spaniard, a model of consistency with trips to the quarters or better in the last eight slams, on a double fault at break point to seize a 4-2 lead in the fifth set.
He ended the match with a bristling forehand for his 52nd winner.
“He had a bad game at 3-2 for me. I was a little nervous about getting into the semis at the U.S. Open, but I did it. Was a big win for me,” he said.
Pennetta, ranked 83rd as she battles back from surgery on an injured right wrist that kept her out of last year's tournament, said times had changed for veteran players on the women's side.
“I think we just keep playing. Before the career of the woman was shorter, they retired early,” Pennetta said about the rise of the 30-somethings at Flushing Meadows.
“It's good to stay physical, in a good way, and play this good tennis at this age. I'm proud of me now.”
The good-natured match between friends who have competed against one another since they were 10 turned into a rout by the second set, which Pennetta raced through in 24 minutes against an error-prone Vinci.
“It was, of course, a special day for us,” said Vinci, who is part of the world number one ranked women's doubles team with fellow Italian Sara Errani, and still busy defending their US Open double title.
“This time she won, but I think that I'm happy, too, about this tournament.”
Pennetta continued a strong history of success at Flushing Meadows.
After advancing to the quarters in 2008, 2009 and 2011, Pennetta has not dropped a set in her march to the semi-finals, dropping just 25 games in her five victories.
“I don't know. I just enjoy to play here,” she said.
Their quarter of their draw was something of a festival for the Italians.
In playing Pennetta, Vinci was facing her third successive compatriot, having beaten unseeded Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp in previous rounds.
Pennetta eliminated fourth seed Errani in the second round.
This marked the sixth year Italy has had a player in the quarter-finals, and second year in a row that two Italians had reached the quarters. - Reuters