Roger,Rafa keep their date

Register contrasting wins to set up semifinal clash; Wozniacki dethroned after quarters defeat

Written by Associated Press | Melbourne | Published:January 25, 2012 12:40 am

JOHN PYE

It was the stroke of midnight when Rafael Nadal thrust both arms up and then punched the air,an extra exuberant celebration after sealing the victory he needed to set up one of the most anticipated Australian Open semifinals ever.

Roger Federer played his part in the previous match,beating 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets to formally mark his 1,000th tour-level match. A Federer-Nadal semifinal had been looming since the draw was made for the season’s first major — the first time the pair have been on the same half at a Grand Slam tournament since 2005.

Playing with a new racket and a heavily taped right knee,Nadal was at his demonstrative peak as he came back after losing the first set to beat No. 7-ranked Tomas Berdych 6-7 (5) 7-6 (6) 6-4 6-3 on Tuesday. Nadal ripped 57 winners against Berdych,including 34 on his forehand side in a 4-hour,16-minute demonstration of intimidation.

Federer finished his quarterfinal with one of his classic,single-handed backhands in a 6-4 6-3 6-2 win over Del Potro,one of only two men who have beaten him in a major final. The other is Nadal,who has done it six times. Not a bad appetiser for Thursday.

It’ll be the first time the pair will meet at Melbourne Park since Nadal won the 2009 title in five seesawing sets and collected the trophy from the great Rod Laver,after consoling Federer as he sobbed in the background.

Back then,Federer was aiming to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles and was confident despite entering the Australian Open with the No. 2 ranking. Nadal had fended off Fernando Verdasco in 5-hour,14-minute late night semifinal — the longest match at the Australian Open — and said he could barely walk,let alone practice the following day. Despite the odds,he became the first Spaniard to win the Australian title.

Nadal has won 17 of their 26 head-to-head matches overall,including a 7-2 lead in Grand Slam matches. Federer won the last meeting,a 60-minute 6-3 6-0 demolition at the season-ending championship in November. It has been almost seven years since the pair last met in the semifinals of a major.

“We have been on opposite sides of the draw many times,” Federer said. “I guess it’s a nice change-up. OK,it doesn’t allow a rematch for the Australian Open final here,you know,but I think it’s good for tennis that it changes up a bit.”

Nadal saved four set points in the first set against Berdych,including one with a stunning passing shot on the 29th point of a rally. But Berdych held firm to win the ensuing tiebreaker. During the tiebreaker,a Berdych shot landed out,and Nadal returned it,then challenged. Chair umpire Carlos Bernardes wouldn’t allow it because Nadal hadn’t immediately stopped play. The replay showed the ball was out and Nadal thought the umpire should have overruled.

In the second set,as Nadal lined up to serve in a key point,a man called out from the crowd: “Come on Rafa,we want a Roger-Rafa semifinal Thursday night.”

Nadal duly obliged.

Clijsters,Azarenka through

The stadium also witnessed the demise of women’s world number one Caroline Wozniacki,whose counter-punching style was meat and drink to big-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters. Crowd favourite Clijsters ended the Dane’s hopes of winning her first Grand Slam with a 6-3 7-6 triumph,despite still struggling with an ankle injury.

Her quarter-final defeat against the 2011 champion means she will lose top spot in the rankings and means one of Maria Sharapova,Victoria Azarenka or Petra Kvitova will seize the the No.1 position by the end of the year’s first Grand Slam.

While Azarenka showed her composed side against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in their quarter-final. Despite going a set down,Azarenka raised her game to pole-axe Radwanska in the second set and grind out the third for a 6-7 6-0 6-2 win.

Sania-Elena enter last four

Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina kept their cool under pressure as they shocked second seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond to breeze into the women’s doubles semifinal of the Australian Open. The sixth seeded Indo-Russian pair staved off strong resistance from the Americans for a 6-3 5-7 7-6 (6) win in just over three hours.

This is only the second time in Sania’s career that she has reached a Grand Slam semi-final in the women’s doubles event,after Wimbledon in 2011. Sania and Elena saved eight breakpoints in the third set.

In the junior competition,Rutuja Bhonsle and Indonesia’s Aldila Sutjiadi came from behind to reach quarter-finals of the girls doubles quarter-finals. They beat the Australian pair of Naiktha Bains and Danielle Wagland 5-7 6-2 10-5 in the second round.

WTA looks to reduce grunting

Maria Sharapova’s shriek when she hits the ball is “pretty annoying” and “just too loud,” according to one of her rivals. No. 8-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska spoke on Tuesday after her loss to Victoria Azarenka,whose high-pitched hoot has also attracted plenty of criticism. The WTA has said it is looking at ways to reduce grunting. Currently,the umpire can penalise a player for “a deliberate act” of hindrance but the rule is rarely enforced when it comes to grunting.

“Of course everybody can make some noise. This is tennis,” Radwanska said. “But I think it’s just too loud. I don’t think it’s very necessary to scream that loud. So if they (the WTA) want to do something,why not?” The WTA issued a statement,saying it is “aware that some fans find it bothersome.”

Southpaw success

Ekaterina Makarova’s shock win over Serena Williams means there are two lefthanders in the women’s quarterfinals at the Australian Open for the first time since 1989. Makarova joined Petra Kvitova,who beat Ana Ivanovic in straight sets earlier in the day. The last time two lefties reached the Australian Open quarterfinals came in 1989 when Martina Navratilova and Belinda Cordwell featured. — Agencies

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