Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka opened her 2013 season with a 6-3, 6-3 win on Wednesday over Sabine Lisicki to join No. 3 Serena Williams and fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber in the Brisbane International quarterfinals.
American Sloane Stephens had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Swedenâ€™s Sofia Arvidsson to set up a quarterfinal against Williams. Sheâ€™ll face a childhood hero.
â€˜â€™Obviously, sheâ€™s been a really great influence in my tennis,â€™â€™ the 19-year-old Stephens said. â€˜â€™Iâ€™m excited to play her and get on the court with her. I think itâ€™ll be fun.â€™â€™
Williams said she has been following Stephensâ€™ career and was â€˜â€™a fanâ€™â€™ of her young Fed Cup teammateâ€™s style.
In her first tournament back since being sidelined by an abdominal injury following the U.S. Open, Stephens isnâ€™t awed by the prospect of taking on the 15-time Grand Slam winner.
â€˜â€™Obviously, I always was like, â€˜Oh, my God. I love her to death. Sheâ€™s amazing, whatever,â€™â€™â€™ Stephens recalled of early meetings with Williams. â€˜â€™Now sheâ€™s like an actual person and Iâ€™m like, â€˜Oh, hi. How is it going?â€™ Sheâ€™s not like a hero anymore. Sheâ€™s just a friend.
â€œEven if I go out there and lose, just bomb it, I donâ€™t win a game, at least if Iâ€™m able to focus on myself and do whatâ€™s right for me, then itâ€™s not a loss.â€™â€™
Kerber recovered from 5-2 down in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7).
Azarenka 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 womenâ€™s rankings.