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AUSTRALIAN OPEN Serena defeats Sharapova in 3



Published: Thu, January 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Serena Williams is in the women's final on Saturday.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Serena Williams saved three match points and beat Maria Sharapova 2-6, 7-5, 8-6 Thursday to advance to the women's final at the Australian Open.

Williams weathered a barrage of deep groundstrokes and shrieks in the first set and at the start of the second from the Wimbledon champion before picking up the pace on her serve and getting her forehand working.

The 17-year-old Sharapova, who upset Williams in the Wimbledon final and in the season-ending WTA championship last season, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and again at 5-4 in the third.

The seventh-seeded Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2003 but couldn't defend the title last year because of an injured knee, has won 13 consecutive matches at Melbourne Park and is one match away from a seventh Grand Slam title.

Williams saved three break points before holding in the 13th game of the third, setting up game point with her first serve-and-volley approach in 2 hours, 33 minutes.

She dropped to her knees and punched the air repeatedly when she set up two match points with a winner in the next game.

After finishing off the match with a backhand after 2:39, Williams leaped all the way to the net.

In 2003, Williams saved two match points in a semifinal against Kim Clijsters before reaching the final and beating her older sister, Venus, for the title.

Williams will face the winner of the later semifinal between top-ranked Lindsay Davenport and 19th-seeded Nathalie Dechy in Saturday's championship match.

Roddick cruises to semifinals

His place in the men's semifinals secured, Andy Roddick was off to the air-conditioned comfort of the casino and hoping for luck at the blackjack table. He couldn't have been dealt a better hand.

The 22-year-old American was leading 6-3, 7-5, 4-1 when Nikolay Davydenko retired from their quarterfinal after just 1 hour, 35 minutes Wednesday because he was having trouble breathing.

That was less time than Roddick's semifinal opponent, Lleyton Hewitt, needed for the fifth set alone before getting past Argentina's David Nalbandian 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 10-8 in 4 hours, 5 minutes.

"I don't have many miles on me so far in this tournament," Roddick said. "That could end up being a good thing."

Hewitt has spent more than 141/2 hours playing through five matches, almost double Roddick's court time.

But Roddick knows what Hewitt's been through.

He reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2003, losing to Rainer Schuettler after he had ended a quarterfinal victory over Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui with the longest fifth set (in games) in Grand Slam history at 21-19.

"The only other time I got to this stage at the Australian Open, I felt like I was going to fall over walking out for my semifinal match," Roddick said.

Hewitt's marathon win ensured the top four seeded men made the semifinals at the Australian Open for the first time since 1988, and at any Grand Slam tournament for the first time since Wimbledon in 1995.

"It's the top four players in the world playing the semifinals here ... so you're going to have to play your best tennis," Hewitt said. "And you're going to have to have enough petrol in the tank."

No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 4 Marat Safin met in the Australian final last year and face off again in the semifinals tonight. No. 2 Roddick and No. 3 Hewitt play Friday night.




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