Spaniards dominate French, Williams denies Russia

January 28th, 2009 - 10:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Rafael NadalMelbourne, Jan 28 (DPA) Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco stopped French opposition Wednesday to send a pair of Spaniards into a showdown semi-final at the Australian Open.On the women’s side, three-time winner Serena Williams spoilt what would have been four Russians in the semis when she rallied to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova once the roff was closed on a hot day.

Top seed Nadal held on to stop Gilles Simon, the sixth seed, 6-2, 7-5, 7-5.

Last year’s fairytale finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ended up on the scrapheap after going down to surging Verdasco, hero of Spain’s Davis Cup final two months ago over Argentina, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

The two nations have won 36 Grand Slam titles between them. Frenchmen have won 21 titles but only one (Yannick Noah, 1983 Roland Garros) since Manuel Santana took the first of 15 Grand Slam titles won by Spanish men.

A Spanish man has never triumphed in Australia; Jean Borotra won France’s only title in 1928.

Nadal had his hands full with Simon, who beat the world number one in their last match in Madrid in October and had a set point in the second set on Wednesday.

The French outsider struck in the third with a break for 3-3 to level after losing a serve early. But that was not enough to keep

Nadal from victory on his first match point to stay unbeaten on sets.

“I came in with some doubts because he beat me in Madrid,” said Nadal. “Gilles has improved a lot from 2008. It’s always amazing to play the first big event of the year and reach the semi-finals.

“This is my second semi-final here. It’s incredible for Fernando and I to be in the semi-finals, with one to be in the final. We have to be happy for that. It will be a tough match.”

Tsonga, who started the event in doubt after a back injury scare the week before, was doomed not to repeat his storybook run to the title match in 2008 as he joined reigning champion Novak Djokovic, who lost a day earlier.

Tsonga fell to 14th-seeded Verdasco, hero of his nation’s Davis Cup title over Argentina two months ago and now in a Grand Slam semi- final for the first time in his 23rd major.

“I was feeling much better the third and the fourth than the first and second. But I don’t think anything in this match was easy,” said Verdasco, who has also accounted for British four seed Andy Murray in Melbourne.

“I’m thinking right now is that I’m playing good. Anyway, I’m in the semi-finals. I don’t have pain in any part of the body. I’m feeling pretty good. And that’s the most important thing.”

Williams, meanwhile, survived a sweltering “out-of-body experience” in temperatures of 42 degrees celsius and picked up her game when the roof was closed after the first set at the Rod Laver arena to beat Kuznetsova 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

“A little experience helps, but I guess it’s me against the Russians,” said Williams who overcame a 5-3 deficit in the second set.

“I knew I was in a lot of trouble, but I relaxed and wanted to fight,” she said. “I wanted to go at least three sets. That’s when I play my best.”

The three-time champion - who lifted the Melbourne trophy in 2003, 2005 and 2007 - said conditions on court were intense at the start: “I must have had an out-of-body experience.”

She is to face fourth seed Elena Dementieva, who beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2 to join Russian compatriots Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva in Thursday’s penultimate stage.

Dementieva is thick in the chase for top ranking honours with the spot occupied by Serb Jelena Jankovic changing hands Monday if Dementieva, Williams or Safina win the tournament.

“Everyone is thinking about the possibility of reaching number one,” Dementieva said. “That’s an extra motivation for all of us. That’s why I guess we’re all trying very hard to win this one.”

“It only took me 10 years to get here,” joked Dementieva, who also wondered why she spent just more than 90 minutes playing with the roof open.

“When you see a forecast (for 44 degrees), the hottest week in a month, why not close the roof - not only for the players, but for the spectators as well?” she asked. “I think, if you have a roof, why not use it?”

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