Victoria Azarenka gains quarters

BRISBANE, Australia -- Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka opened
her 2013 season with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Germany's Sabine Lisicki
on Wednesday to join No. 3 Serena Williams and fourth-seeded
Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International quarterfinals.

Azarenka, who won here in 2009 without dropping a set, got the
better of 37th-ranked Lisicki in a match that had nine breaks of

The Belarusian won her first major at the Australian Open last
year during a 26-match winning streak to start the season and spent
most of 2012 atop the women's rankings.

She said her focus ahead of her first major title defense was
more about attacking than defending.

"I actually don't really look at defending anything. I'm just
looking to win," Azarenka said. "I'm going to have the same
mindset for as long as I'm playing."

In earlier second-round matches, Angelique Kerber recovered from
5-2 down in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Puerto Rican qualifier
Monica Puig, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7) and Sloane Stephens had a 6-3, 6-4
win over Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson to set up a quarterfinal against
fellow American Williams.

Azarenka said Lisicki, who was serving at up to 121 mph, proved
a tough match and a good measure of her preparations for the
Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 14.

She said Lisicki was "serving some bombs," although the German
player was only getting half of her first serves into play and had
five double-faults. Lisicki mixed 36 winners with 36 unforced
errors, trying to push Azarenka around the court.

"I had a tough challenge at the beginning," she said. "It's
always good to see where you're at, right at the start."

She'll next play Kazakh qualifier Ksenia Pervak, who has ousted
former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Urszula Radwanska in matches
decided by third-set tiebreakers.

"I hope she's tired," Azarenka joked. "She's a young girl
with a lot of potential. She's going to be really motivated. I'm
looking forward to the challenge."

Five of the top eight seeded players had already been eliminated
midway through the second round.

Kerber narrowly avoided that fate, coming back from 4-1 down in
the third set and clawing her way back in a tiebreaker when Puig
was two points from the biggest victory of her career.

The 19-year-old Puig, ranked No. 124, buried a swinging volley
into the bottom of the net at 5-2 in the tiebreaker and it changed
the momentum of the match.

"For sure it was a surprise how she played. I didn't know her
before, but, yeah, I'm sure that she'll be coming very soon into
the top 50," Kerber said of Puig. "I have a lot of confidence
right now that I won again (in a) very close match."

Stephens had a convincing win over Arvidsson and next faces a
childhood hero.

"Obviously she's been a really great influence in my tennis
year career. I'm excited to play her and get on the court with her.
I think it'll be fun," the 19-year-old Stephens said.

Williams said she has been following Stephens' career and was
"a fan" of her young Fed Cup teammate's style.

In her first tournament back since being sidelined by an
abdominal injury following the U.S. Open, Stephens isn't awed by
the prospect of taking on the 15-time Grand Slam winner.

"Obviously I always was like, 'Oh, my God. I love her to death.
She's amazing, whatever,"' Stephens recalled of her earliest
meetings with Williams. "Now she's like an actual person and I'm
like, 'Oh, hi. How is it going?' She's not like a hero anymore.
She's just a friend.

"Even if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I don't win a
game, at least if I'm able to focus on myself and do what's right
for me then it's not a loss."

In men's second-round matches, third-seeded Gilles Simon of
France beat Colombia's Alejandro Falla 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) and No. 5
Kei Nishikori of Japan had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Tommy Robredo of
Spain. Sixth-seeded Florian Mayer lost 6-4, 6-2 to 2006 Australian
Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

In the night match, fourth-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov was
leading 6-2, 4-1 when Jarkko Nieminen of Finland retired due to a