- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - Caroline Wozniacki moved within one victory of regaining the No. 1 ranking after beating Japan’s Ayumi Morita 6-1, 6-0 Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships.

The 20-year-old Dane, who lost the top spot to Kim Clijsters on Monday, was never seriously challenged by the 57th-ranked Japanese qualifier. She now must beat Shahar Peer of Israel to return to No. 1. Wozniacki lost to Peer in the third round last year.

In earlier matches, U.S. Open finalist Vera Zvonareva and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone were both eliminated in the third round.

Alisa Kleybanova beat Russian teammate Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2, while Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Schiavone 1-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Samantha Stosur of Australia also reached the quarterfinals, beating Swiss veteran Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-4, while Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland defeated Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-2, and Peer overcame a sluggish start to beat Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Italy’s Flavia Pennetta came back from 4-1 down in the third set to beat seventh-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4. Pennetta seemed on her way to a relatively straightforward victory but blew a 5-1 lead in the second to allow Azarenka to even the match.

Early in the match, Pennetta injured her left ankle but kept playing. She later pulled out of her doubles match Thursday with Schiavone, but said she “hoped” to be able to play her match Friday against Kleybanova.

Wozniacki, who took over the No. 1 spot from Serena Williams in October, downplayed her possible return to the top, insisting she was simply concerned with winning the match against Peer.

“To be honest, I don’t really think about it,” she said. “I’m going to go out there every time I go into a tournament, I try to win it. That’s my goal. If I play well, the ranking will come automatically. For me, tomorrow I’m going to go out there and play my best. That’s all I can do.”

Wozniacki won Thursday’s match playing her trademark style of marathon tennis, wearing out Morita with a barrage of forehands and backhands to win in 52 minutes. She can be expected to take a similar approach against Peer, but will have to do so on the smaller and quicker Court 2 rather than roomier Center Court, where she has played all week.

Peer, who two years ago was barred from playing in the Gulf nation due to her nationality, has played ever since in Dubai amid heavy security. She is kept separate from the other players in a guarded compound and this week has played all her matches on the isolated Court 1.

“On a small court, it’s completely different. So definitely I’ll to have get used to that. She has a big advantage there,” said Wozniacki, admitting she understood the shift for security reasons.

“Of course, the most important for me is that I’m safe,” she said. “You know, if they think that it’s not safe to play on Center Court, then of course I’ll play on Court 2.”

The highly anticipated match between Schiavone and Kuznetsova lacked the drama of their Australian Open meeting in Melbourne which lasted nearly 5 hours and was the longest women’s Grand Slam singles match in the Open era. Schiavone won that fourth-round match.

After two quick sets that went opposite ways, Kuznetsova needed seven match points to win.

“I said to myself, ‘Look, you still have it. You’re good enough. It’s just a matter of closing the deal,’” Kuznetsova said. “I just cannot close it. It’s just one point, a stupid point, but it’s only one. I win like 101 during the match, and I can’t win just final one. It’s funny.”

Kleybanova had six aces against Zvonareva, an Australian Open semifinalist and runner-up at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

“Maybe the score looked easy, but the match wasn’t really easy today. We had a lot of fighting in many games,” said Kleybanova, who had beaten Zvonareva twice.

“When I walked on the court today to play against her, I believe that I can win and I am better,” she said. “So my point was just to play my game, be aggressive. I didn’t make too many errors today, so everything worked well for me.”

Zvonareva, who reached the quarterfinals last year in Dubai, called the match one of her worst recent performances.

“Definitely, it wasn’t my day today. I think I didn’t play too good, too many unforced errors. Probably one of the worse matches in a while from my part,” she said. “She’s a tough opponent, so if you’re not playing at a high level, it’s very difficult to beat her.”

Stosur, a 2010 French Open finalist who has started slowly this year, hasn’t really been tested in Dubai.

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