Ruthless defending champion Serena Williams breezed into the US Open semifinals yesterday to book a showdown with Chinese fifth seed Li Na, who fought off nerves to battle her way into the final four.
World number one Williams, a 16-time Grand Slam winner seeking her fifth US Open crown and her ninth title of the year, dispatched 18th seed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-0, in 52 minutes on the Spaniard's 25th birthday.
"I'm so happy to be in the semifinals. It really feels great," Williams said.
Li, the 2011 French Open champion, overcame nerves for a 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 victory over Russian 24th seed Ekaterina Makarova.
Reigning French Open champion Williams is 8-1 all-time against Li but was tested 7-5, 7-5 in their most recent matchup last month in a US Open run-up semifinal at Cincinnati.
"She is playing some of the best tennis of her career," Williams said. "It's going to be a tough match."
Williams, who has dropped only 13 games in five matches on the New York hardcourts, matched the worst rout in US Open women's quarter-final history, Martina Navratilova's 6-0, 6-0 blanking of Bulgarian Manuela Maleeva in 1989.
Ignoring a fan's call to let the birthday girl win at least one game and a few boos when she did not, Williams showed no mercy in taking only 52 minutes to complete the rout on a windy night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"She's a great player," Williams said. "The conditions were so tough. It was definitely not her best tennis today."
No Spaniard has beaten a top-ranked woman since 2001 but Suarez Navarro, who has never taken more than three games off Williams in a match, did become the first Spanish woman in a US Open quarter-final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1998 and made US$325,000 ($416,000) in prize money for a last-eight exit.
Li seized a 4-2 tie-breaker lead but lost five of the next six points, three of them including the last with forehands beyond the baseline, and had to rally by breaking Makarova's last two service games in the third set.
"I'm not so happy," Li said. "Today was the first time I was feeling so nervous. I was happy because at least I was fighting a lot on the court.
"Didn't play the best of tennis but I ... am still in the tournament."
Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka reached the last eight by beating Serbian 13th seed Ana Ivanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match postponed from Tuesday by rain.
Azarenka took advantage of Ivanovic's 42 unforced errors and broke the fellow former world number one nine times, advancing despite surrendering seven breaks herself and hitting just 21 winners.
"There's a lot of room to improve, but I don't think that my serve was a deal breaker of those games I lost," Azarenka said.
Azarenka, who lost to Williams in last year's US Open final, will play for a semifinal spot against Slovakia's 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova, with whom she has split four career meetings.
"She's playing the best tennis of her life," Azarenka said.
"She is really playing well and has a lot of confidence. We hit with each other a lot so there will be no surprises there."
Italians Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta were due to meet in the other women's quarter-final.