Nadal loses to unseeded Tsonga in Australian Open semifinals |

Nadal loses to unseeded Tsonga in Australian Open semifinals

Paul Alexander
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Spain's Rafael Nadal runs to return in his Men's singles semi final match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

MELBOURNE, Australia ” Second-ranked Rafael Nadal, seeking to prove he can win a Grand Slam on a surface other than Roland Garros’ clay, instead matched his worst loss in a major as the No. 39-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached the Australian Open finals with a dominating 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory on Thursday.

Nadal played well against Tsonga, who has struggled with injuries and had never gone beyond the fourth round in his four previous Grand Slams. But the Frenchman was virtually untouchable, smashing 17 aces against one of the best serve returners.

He faces the winner of Friday’s semifinal between top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

Nadal had just 12 unforced errors ” four combined in the first two sets ” while matching the fewest games he has won in a Grand Slam, against Andy Roddick at the 2004 U.S. Open.

“I was playing fine,” Nadal said. “He played unbelievable. Congratulate him.”

Tsonga had 49 winners and didn’t face any break points until the third set, when he saved three in one game in Nadal’s only real challenge.

“It’s unbelievable, just amazing,” Tsonga said, calling it his best performance ever. “Nothing can stop me today. It’s like a dream. I can’t believe it’s true. I was moving on the court like never I move. Everything was perfect.”

On the women’s side, fourth-ranked Ana Ivanovic staged a dramatic comeback, losing the first eight games before ousting No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach her second Grand Slam final. She will meet No. 5 Maria Sharapova, who overwhelmed Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1.

While Nadal is popular, Tsonga has been adopted by the Melbourne Park fans for his go-for-broke style and outgoing personality. He frequently had them standing and cheering.

Nadal got a taste of what was ahead as Tsonga jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first set. After watching one untouchable service return zip past, Nadal simply stared at him in disbelief.

As three other seeded players already learned here, this guy is for real.

Tsonga picked up volleys off his feet with an amazingly deft touch. Changing speed and spin, he slugged it out with Nadal from the baseline the way few can. And anytime he got close to trouble, his big serve bailed him out.

“I can’t believe some volleys,” Nadal said. “I tried to play little bit slower; I tried to play a little bit faster; I tried to play more inside the court; behind the court. No chance. Not today.”

He broke Nadal at love to finish off the first set, then reveled in the cheers, waving his arms to get the fans to yell even louder.

“They give me lot of energy,” Tsonga said.

With Nadal serving at 3-4 in the second set, Tsonga set up break point with a lunging backhand volley that left him with his back facing the net, then raised a finger to indicate “One more.” He smacked a blistering service return on the next point, then another stinging shot to set up an easy overhead.

Serving for the set, Tsonga blasted two aces, then another serve that clipped the net and landed on the line. Nadal challenged the call, clearly unwilling to give Tsonga another chance ” and for good reason. The call stood, and Tsonga rang up another ace.

Tsonga broke for the seventh time, then served for the match at 5-2, finishing it off with another ace. He looked stunned it was over, then jumped around the court in celebration.

Sharapova has shown focus and determination to get back to the women’s final after losing to Serena Williams last year.

“You have your bad moments in your career and you have your good moments, and it’s been a good ride so far,” said the Russian, who hasn’t dropped a set in six matches and earlier ended No. 1 Justine Henin’s 32-match winning streak. “But it’s not over yet.”

With Rod Laver Arena’s roof closed due to a light rain, Jankovic looked anxious and tight. It didn’t help that Sharapova, seeking her third Grand Slam title was whacking winners everywhere.

Jankovic double-faulted three times as Sharapova broke to start the second set, then got treatment for lower back pain.

“I wanted to withdraw, but it was a semifinal,” Jankovic said.

The second match started as a near-replay. Ivanovic said her fans, including a strong presence from Melbourne’s sizable Serbian community, helped her rally.

“If it wasn’t for you guys, I would already be booking my flight back home,” she told the crowd.

Ivanovic, who beat Venus Williams in the previous round, won only nine points in the first set.

“I think she didn’t miss a ball,” Ivanovic said of Hantuchova. “I just tried to tell myself that she can’t keep up that level throughout the whole match.”

Ivanovic finally won her first game while down 0-2 in the second set, the crowd erupting in cheers. The small victory provided just what she needed ” a jolt of confidence. She broke twice to even the match.

Serving at 4-4 in the third set, Hantuchova set herself up to save a break point with a drop volley. Ivanovic got to it but was out of court when Hantuchova netted an easy volley.

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