Williams marches into final

0

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Unseeded and ranked No. 81, Serena Williams made it back to a Grand Slam final with a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Nicole Vaidisova at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champ, weathered Vaidisova’s powerful forehands and gave back plenty of her own, sometimes surprising the 17-year-old Czech player with her speed around the court and the pace of her ball.

After leading 5-1 in the second, she needed six match points before sealing it with an overhead in 1 hour, 46 minutes.

“Yahooo!” she said, laughing and celebrating the win.

“She played some incredible points on match point,” Williams said. “She just got relaxed. It reminded me a bit of myself. I just tried to stay focussed and tried to stay calm – it was just great.”

Williams won two of her seven majors at Melbourne Park and is one win away from her most improbable title.

In between her win here in 2005 and her run to this year’s final, Williams had not beaten at top 10 player and dropped out of the top 100 at one point last year.

By reaching the final, she is expected to surge back into the top 20.

“I can’t believe it. That’s awesome – that was so fast,” Williams said. “I’m excited. I have nothing to lose. I’m back in the top 20, that means so much to me.”

Williams played only four tournaments in 2006, finishing the season 12-4 and without a title. She was the ninth-lowest ranked player to make a Grand Slam semifinal since computer rankings were introduced in 1975.

If she wins, she would be only the second unseeded player to win the Australian in the open era.

Vaidisova broke Williams’ serve in the first game and was dictating early rallies until Williams broke back to level at 3-3.

The pair traded breaks late in the set, with Vaidisova going ahead 5-4 and having a set point on serve before Williams rallied to break back and force a tiebreaker.

The 25-year-old American led 5-1 in the tiebreaker but allowed Vaidisova back to 5-5, serving consecutive double-faults.

She set up set point with a backhand winner and let out a powerful “gggrrrr” after Vaidisova dumped a forehand into the net.

Williams broke Vaidisova twice and took a 5-1 lead in the second set but the No. 10 seed rallied and won four straight games, saving four match points after being down 0-40 to hold the ninth game.

“I almost did a gagarooney there,” said Williams, explaining: “Basically, you know gagging.”

Williams thought she had won it on match point No. 5, but Vaidisova’s backhand crosscourt was called in.

She had run out of challenges and had to accept the call, despite video replays showing the ball was out.

Williams fired an ace to get another match point and made no mistake with the next.

She will play the winner between top-seeded Maria Sharapova and No. 4 Kim Clijsters in Saturday’s championship match.

Sharapova reached the semis here for the third straight year with a 7-6 (5), 7-5 win over Anna Chakvetadze.

Clijsters made the semifinals for the fifth time here with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over three-time champion Martina Hingis.

Men’s No. 2 Rafael Nadal limped out in the quarterfinals, complaining his leg was too sore to challenge Fernando Gonzalez.

With Gonzalez firing winners past him from both the forehand and backhand sides, though, even a fit Nadal might have struggled.

The 10th-seeded Gonzalez had 41 winners in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 upset over the second-seeded Nadal on Wednesday, earning him a semifinal spot along with top-ranked Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas.

Federer, aiming for a 10th Grand Slam title and seventh consecutive final at a major, is against sixth-seeded Roddick in the night match.

He is 12-1 against Roddick, including a win in the final of the last U.S. Open.

Roddick beat Federer in the final of an exhibition tournament at Kooyong on Jan. 14, though that result does not count on their ATP records.

Gonzalez will play Tommy Haas, a 6-3, 2-6, 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 winner over No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko on Friday night.

AP-ES-01-25-07 0021EST

Advertisement
SHARE