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May 25, 2017

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Azarenka edges nearer top spot after Kerber cliffhanger

ISTANBUL -- Victoria Azarenka had to draw on all her reserves by saving two match points in a heroic three-hour, six-minute tussle with Angelique Kerber in the WTA Championships.

The top-seeded Belarusian beat the German revelation 6-7 (11/13), 7-6 (7/2) 6-4 in an encounter full of magnificent rallies and surprises. Her win leaves Azarenka needing just one more win to guarantee her finishing the year as world number one.

Azarenka saved both match points by following up sound serving with bold and courageous driving. That helped make up for the five set points that Kerber had enterprisingly denied the top seed in the first set's tie-break.

Had Azarenka lost either of them — from 4-5, 15-40 in the second set — a pathway might have opened up for Maria Sharapova to sneak through to the summit instead.

Azarenka would now have to lose both her remaining group matches for this to happen, even though Sharapova later made sure of a place in Saturday's semifinals by beating Agnieszka Radwanska, the Wimbledon runner-up from Poland, 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in another three-hour encounter.

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