Victoria Azarenka finally met someone who didn't choke with a big lead.
Seventh-seeded Marion Bartoli of France handed Azarenka, the defending champion ranked No. 1 in the world, her first loss of the year, 6-3, 6-3 Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla. Bartoli and Azarenka won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Azarenka, 22, of Belarus had won her first 26 matches this year, the best women's start since Martina Hingis went 37-0 in 1997. During Azarenka's streak, she trailed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 4-0 in the round of 16 in Key Biscayne and 4-1 (two breaks) in the third set against Mona Barthel of Germany in the second round at Indian Wells in early March.
Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up to Venus Williams, won the first four games of Wednesday's match and the first game of the second set. After Azarenka took the next three games, Bartoli reeled off five straight games, and 14 of the last 16 points, for the match.
"In the beginning of the second set, I was feeling a little bit tired, but I pumped myself up and just tried to stay positive the whole time," Bartoli, who improved to 3-8 against Azarenka, told the crowd afterward. "I think she hurt her knee a little bit and found it tough in the end of the match, but I'm very happy how I played today. This is a great victory.
"The key for me tonight was the belief. I've beaten her in the past, and some of the losses were really close, so I knew I had a chance to win."
Bartoli's victory ensured there will be a first-time winner of the Sony Ericsson Open. The 27-year-old Frenchwoman will face fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland on Thursday in the semifinals. Radwanska beat Williams, a wild card playing her first tournament since the U.S. Open last year because of an autoimmune disease, 6-4, 6-1.
In the first semifinal (ESPN2, 10 a.m. PDT), second-seeded Maria Sharapova will take on fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki.
On the men's side, second-seeded Rafael Nadal and fourth-seeded Andy Murray survived long matches to set up a Friday semifinal. Murray, the 2009 champion and a two-time SAP Open titlist in San Jose, outlasted ninth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Nadal, seeking his first Sony Ericsson crown, edged sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
In Thursday's men's quarterfinals, eighth-seeded Mardy Fish of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis will face No. 21 Juan Monaco (ESPN2 at about noon), and top-ranked Novak Djokovic will go against fifth-seeded David Ferrer (ESPN2, 4 p.m.).