Serena survives in semis, advances to face big sis
MELBOURNE, Australia – Amid a flurry of errors, Serena Williams hung her head and stared at her racket.
Trailing 5-1 in the final set of an Australian Open semifinal against Kim Clijsters, Williams didn’t look like the most dominant player in women’s tennis. Neither her shotmaking nor her body language was quite right.
Then, suddenly, the zip came back.
Williams started pushing Clijsters around the court, saved two match points and surged to a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory Thursday, leaving her one victory away from a Serena Slam.
“I really didn’t think I’d win it,” said Williams, who was bothered by blisters on her feet. “I just kept fighting, one point at a time. Next thing I knew, the match was over.”
For the fourth consecutive time in the final of a major, her foe will be family: Older sister Venus beat 2001 Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3, 6-3 in the other semifinal.
It will mark the first time in more than 100 years of Grand Slam tournament history that two women have met in four straight major finals.
“We love to play each other,” said Serena, who beat Venus in last year’s championship matches at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. “Getting this far is just amazing for both of us, and I think I was a bit fortunate to get through, because Kim played a wonderful match.”
Whoever wins the latest installment of the Sister Slam series will have a 5-4 career edge in major titles, and a 6-5 edge in head-to-head matches.
Serena will try to do what Tiger Woods accomplished in golf during the 2000-01 seasons – winning the last three major tournaments of one year and the first of the next year. Because the accomplishment didn’t occur in the same calendar year, some people didn’t consider it a true Grand Slam, instead calling the accomplishment a Tiger Slam.
Serena missed last year’s Australian Open with an injury, and this is the first time she’s gone past the quarterfinals of this tournament. Venus reached the semis in 2001 but also hasn’t won this event.
Looking to the final, Serena said Venus “is actually playing a little better than me at this tournament. I’ve just got to pull something out of my back pocket to be able to go on to the next level.”
They probably won’t talk about the upcoming match, Serena said, adding: “I don’t like to bring my work home.”
The Williams sisters also will try to win the doubles title after beating Lindsay Davenport and Lisa Raymond 6-2, 6-2 in a semifinal. Team Williams will face Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez for the championship.
On the men’s side, meanwhile, Andre Agassi easily dismissed Wayne Ferreira 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the final. He’s trying to win his fourth Australian Open and eighth Grand Slam title overall.
Agassi, who won here in 1995, 2000 and 2001 but missed last year’s tournament with a wrist injury, has a 20-match winning streak at Melbourne Park.
Things looked bleak for Serena against Clijsters, who beat her in the final of the WTA Championships last year.
Williams won despite 65 errors, nearly twice as many as Clijsters had. But Williams overcame that thanks to 42 winners – 28 more than the fourth-seeded Belgian.
Clijsters served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 in the third set. Her biggest regret: two double faults that sent Serena on the way to winning the 10th game.
While Williams improved her play, Clijsters seemed to tighten. Toward the end, Williams “hit everything a little harder and closer to the line,” Clijsters said.
On the two match points for Clijsters, Williams forced an error and then put away a volley after a long rally.
Earlier, there was a nine-minute break in the action while a trainer taped blisters on Williams’ right foot.
“I just needed to be retaped,” she said, because the original tape slipped, “so it was starting to burn.”
Although Williams received some boos when she came out, Clijsters said the timeout didn’t make any difference, since “I won the next few games.”
It was Clijsters’ first loss since Lindsay Davenport beat her in the quarterfinals in Zurich, Switzerland, in October. Clijsters then won three tournaments in a row and a total of 22 straight matches.
But she couldn’t quite finish off Williams, who’s intent on making some more history.
No man or woman has won four straight major tennis titles since Steffi Graf added the 1994 Australian Open title to her victories in the other top events in 1993.
Graf also is among three women with a true Grand Slam. She did it in 1988, following Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.
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