|Victoria Azarenka of Belarus returns the ball to Roberta Vinci of Italy during the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, May 28, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Roge
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, China's Li Na and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic were early third-round winners Saturday at the French Open.
The fourth-seeded Azarenka cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Italy's Roberta Vinci and the sixth-seeded Li made short work of Romania's Sorana Cirstea in a 6-2, 6-2 romp that took a mere 61 minutes. Kvitova, the ninth seed, eliminated the last American woman with a 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Vania King.
Azarenka, a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2009, has had a strong spring heading into the French fortnight. She's won titles in Miami and Marbella with a loss to Kvitova in the final at Madrid.
Next up for Azarenka will be the winner between 16th-seeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia and Russia's Ekaterina Makarova.
Kvitova and Li will square off in the fourth round. The two are among the rising stars on the WTA circuit and will meet for the second time this year. Kvitova was dominant in a 6-3, 6-1 win in the Madrid semifinals earlier this month.
In just her third French Open, Kvitova has now matched her longest run as she also reached the fourth round in her Roland Garros debut of 2008. She also was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January and has won three times this year. In addition to the title in Madrid that included wins over Li and Azarenka, she captured the title at the Australian Open tuneup in Brisbane before beating Kim Clijsters for the Paris Indoors crown.
Li has also equaled her best French Open run -- a fourth-round appearance in 2009. She has had a better Grand Slam finish, though, reaching the Australian Open final in January, but went into a long dry spell following a loss in the title match to Kim Clijsters. After winning just one match in her next five events, Li reached the semifinals in each of her last two starts -- the loss to Kvitova in Madrid and a setback to Samantha Stosur in Rome.
Also scheduled for play today is seventh-seeded Maria Sharapova. The Russian star needs only a French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam and will continue that quest against Taipei's Yung-Jan Chan on Saturday.