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       === Azarenka, Sharapova, Serena post wins at WTA Championships ===
 Istanbul,  Turkey  (Sports Network) - World  No. 1 Victoria Azarenka saved two
 match  points  in  her  opening-match victory,  while  former  champion  Maria
 Sharapova  and  two-time titlist  Serena  Williams  each  improved to  2-0  in
 round-robin play at the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul.
 Azarenka  staved  off fifth-seeded  German  left-hander  Angelique Kerber  6-7
 (11-13),  7-6  (7-2),  6-4  in  a  high-quality  3-hour,  6-minute  battle  on
 Wednesday.  The Belarusian  star  saved match  points en  route  to forcing  a
 second-set tiebreak, which she wound up dominating before coming out on top in
 a tight third.
 The 23-year-old Azarenka now needs only one more win this week to end the year
 at No. 1.
 Azarenka and Williams will square off on Thursday, with the American seeking a
 fifth win in five tries this year. Williams beat Azarenka in last month's U.S.
 Open finale and is a lopsided 10-1 lifetime against the Belarusian.
 The  Australian  Open champion  Azarenka  was  last year's  WTA  Championships
 runner-up  to  Czech southpaw  Petra Kvitova,  who pulled  out of the Istanbul
 field Wednesday, citing a viral illness.
 The  second-seeded  former No.  1 Sharapova  came from  behind to best fourth-
 seeded  Wimbledon  runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska 5-7,  7-5, 7-5 in 3 hours, 12
 minutes  in Wednesday's  nightcap, which went past 2 a.m. local time. The tall
 Russian  star broke  for a 6-5 edge in  the final set and closed out the match
 with a final service hold.
 Meanwhile,  the third-seeded former top-ranked great Williams overcame a shaky
 service game and got past eighth-seeded former French Open champion Li Na, 7-6
 (7-2),  6-3,  indoors at Sinan  Erdem Dome.  The powerful American smacked six
 aces in the 1-hour, 50-minute victory.
 Williams  uncharacteristically  dropped her serve  five times on Wednesday and
 got so frustrated at one point she smashed her racquet on the court.
 "No,  I don't  break racquets in matches.  Although I didn't hit it hard," she
 said. "Maybe I don't know my own strength."
 The  2012 Wimbledon,  U.S. Open  and  Olympic champion  Williams captured  WTA
 Championships  titles  in 2001  and 2009  and is a  two-time runner-up at this
 prestigious event.
 This  week's four-player  Group  A features  Azarenka  (1-0), Williams  (2-0),
 Kerber (0-2) and Li (0-1), while Group B boasts the 2004 champion and 2007 WTA
 Championships  runner-up  Sharapova  (2-0),  Radwanska  (1-1),  seventh-seeded
 French  Open  runner-up Sara  Errani (0-1)  and Sam  Stosur, who replaced last
 year's Championships winner Kvitova in the field.
 The  top-two players  in  each  group will  advance  to  the semifinals,  with
 the winners squaring off in the lucrative final on Sunday.
 Also  in Istanbul on Thursday, Kerber will face Li and Errani will tangle with
 a ninth-seeded Stosur.
 The winner of this $4.9 million event could collect as much as $1.75 million.
 10/24 19:24:27 ET

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