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MADRID, Spain - The surprises continued late in the day at the Mutua Madrid Open on Thursday, as Francesca Schiavone became the latest casualty in the third round of the prestigious $4.5-million clay court tournament.
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Schiavone, seeded No.3, was in good form but Bethanie Mattek-Sands was in better form, recording her first Top 5 win, 76(5) 63. Both players served strongly but Mattek-Sands grabbed the only break of the match in the fourth game of the second set (she was 1/10 on break points, Schiavone was 0/2).
"She was serving great today, but my return is one of my best shots and I think there was only one break in the match," Mattek-Sands said. "I'm playing free, is the best way to put it. I'm playing aggressive and confident, even if I miss a couple here and there. I'm going for it and that makes the difference."
Before this week, Mattek-Sands had been 1-16 against Top 10 players, the only win coming against then-No.10 Marion Bartoli on the grass of Wimbledon three years ago. Now she is 2-16 against the Top 10, but with Schiavone ranked No.4, this is by far her biggest career win. "It's amazing," Mattek-Sands added. "Francesca is probably one of the best competitors on the tour. We played her in doubles yesterday and she played a great match again. Today, every point from the beginning, it was on. She's a great champion, obviously won the French Open last year, and this victory gives me a lot of confidence.
"I'm really happy with my play on clay right now. I feel like a true dirtballer."
Next up for Mattek-Sands will be another Top 10 player, Li Na. Ranked and seeded No.6, Li seemed in trouble against crafty Italian Roberta Vinci, losing the first set and serving at 2-all, 0-30 in the second set. But she found her range when she needed it, winning nine straight games and finishing it, 26 62 61.
"The first set was good for her, then I started thinking about hitting it more to her slice backhand," Li said. "After Melbourne I wasn't winning any matches, so it's exciting I've now won three matches on clay. Things are going fantastic. Since my new coach joined my team I'm happier. I have more good energy now."
Li and Mattek-Sands will be playing against each other for the first time.
Li is one of two Top 8 seeds who survived the early rounds to reach the final eight; the other, No.4 seed Victoria Azarenka, couldn't have had a smoother path, scoring 60 60 and 61 61 wins in her first two matches and on Thursday recording a 60 63 win over Spanish wildcard Arantxa Parra Santonja.
"I played a very solid game," Azarenka said afterwards. "I was dominating the whole match, which gives me a good feeling and a lot of confidence."
Azarenka will next play Lucie Safarova, who beat Jarmila Gajdosova in the last match of the day, 63 63. Safarova had beaten No.7 seed Jelena Jankovic.
"Last year I reached the semifinals here in Madrid, so it's great to be back in the quarters," Safarova said. "Today was a tough match to play as Jarka is a friend of mine, but I served really well and am happy with the result."
Azarenka leads Safarova in their head-to-head, 5-0. She hasn't lost a set in any of those meetings, although they haven't played on clay in four years.