Sharapova holds on to advance to semifinals; Roddick cruises


Chicago Bears running back Thomas Jones (20) lifts head coach Lovie Smith at the end of the NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Smith likes that his team are underdogs in the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 7-6 (5), 7-5 win Wednesday over Anna Chakvetadze, another 19-year-old Russian.

The top-seeded Sharapova, assured of gaining the No. 1 ranking next month, had trouble on her serve, serving double-faults on break point three times. But she had the only point on serve in the tiebreaker, where the last eight points finished on unforced errors.

The U.S. Open champion was broken when serving for the match at 5-3 and wasted a match point with a backhand error in the next game.

Sharapova got two more match points in the 12th game and finished it off in 2 hours, 14 minutes when Chakvetadze netted a forehand.

"It was very difficult, I didn't feel like we had a lot of easy rallies," Sharapova said. "I felt I had to work on every point."

Sharapova was very inconsistent, smacking clean winners to take one game, then committing glaring mistakes to lose the next. She finished with 32 winners but six double faults and 41 unforced errors and won only three more points than her opponent.

Sharapova, who looks toward her father, Yuri, after almost every point, got a warning for getting coaching from him as she served at 0-30 with the score tied at 2-2 in the second set. She then ran off four straight points to take the game.

"I was a little up and down, a bit scratchy," Sharapova said. "I am glad I got through, but next time will even be tougher."

Sharapova is into the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the third straight year and is among the last four at a major for the eighth time. She is the defending U.S. Open champion and also won Wimbledon in 2004.

Andy Roddick was ruthless, treating his close friend like little more than warmup fodder for his semifinal showdown with Roger Federer.

The 2003 U.S. Open champion flattened Mardy Fish without blinking Tuesday, making only four unforced errors in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win at the Australian Open.

"I played pretty flawless, I thought," Roddick said. "I feel good going into the semis."

Roddick said he could remember making more errors in one game than he had in the entire match against Fish, who lived with him in Boca Raton, for a while and went to his high school.

"I tried my best to kind of put our friendship to the back of my head," Roddick said. "You know, it's always difficult. It's a weird, weird situation."

Next up is how to beat Federer, something he has not managed since Montreal in 2003.

That was the year he ended at No. 1 and collected his only major title.

Federer also won his first major at Wimbledon that year, and is now bidding for his 10th Grand Slam title.

The defending champion encountered tricky wind conditions on Rod Laver Arena and a difficult opponent, looking nervous at times during a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 7-5 win over No. 7 Tommy Robredo with his parents in the crowd.

Federer, who lost to Roddick in the final of an exhibition tournament 10 days ago, dropped his serve four times. He was shaking his head after shanking some shots.

"The break of serves, they're due to the wind I assume," Federer said. "I had to kind of change my game around a little bit midway through the second set.

"I think my attacking style really worked out well — I'm really happy to have come through."

Federer has been ranked No. 1 since February 2004 and next month he'll break Jimmy Connors' record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the rankings.

Roddick and eight-time Grand Slam winner Connors teamed up as student and coach last July to try and challenge Federer's domination.

And that has coincided with Roddick returning to the top 10 and becoming a contender again to take a major from Federer.

"I said for the past probably five or six months, the gap has either been closing a little bit or just he hasn't been extending it, which he's probably done the last three years or so," Roddick said. "That's a good thing.

"I feel like I'm in good form. I'd love to see where I match up."

Federer said his 12-1 record against Roddick did not reflect how close some of the matches have been.

The 25-year-old Swiss star had to save match points before beating Roddick at the Masters Cup last November at Shanghai and has had close runs against him in finals at the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon.

"I think we've played on so many big occasions against each other. If I wouldn't have been there, maybe look at the success he would have had," Federer said. "We're about the same age. You know, he's been No. 1. I don't think the record really plays much of a role."

Serena Williams knows what it's like to dominate tennis. This time, though, she's coming in at the other end.

She has won seven Grand Slams, but had not beaten a top 10 player in two years since her last Australian title until upsetting No. 5 Nadia Petrova in the third round.

On Tuesday, it was only her competitive streak that got her out of trouble against 16th-seeded Shahar Peer and into a semifinal against 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova, who beat fellow Czech Lucie Safarova in straight sets.

Williams fended off 10 break points and came within two points of going out before advancing 3-6, 6-2, 8-6.

"I am the ultimate competitor," said Williams, adding: "I feel absolutely no pressure."

I don't think anyone thought I would get this far, except for me and my mom."

She came in unseeded and ranked No. 81 after playing only four tournaments last year because of a recurring knee problem.

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova led the challenge on the other side of the draw in a quarterfinal Wednesday against fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze, while No. 4 Kim Clijsters and three-time champion Martina Hingis line up again in a quarterfinal for the second year running.

Clijsters won at that stage last year, ending Hingis' remarkable run after coming to Melbourne Park with a ranking of 341 following three years in retirement.

Tommy Haas will try to make his third Australian semifinal when he plays No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko in a quarterfinal.

Rafael Nadal, who has been ranked No. 2 to Federer since July 2005, faces No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez two nights after his epic comeback in five sets against Andy Murray.

Nadal and Murray were the only two men to beat Federer in 2006.

Roddick's win over Federer at Kooyong earlier in the month won't count on their ATP records because it was an exhibition.

Regardless, Roddick is taking confidence from that.

"I said before we played in Kooyong, if I had won there I'm not going to come in acting like it's some huge match," he said. "But given the choice going in to win a match or lose a match, you choose to win it.

"I've been a little bit more successful the last couple times I played him — I'm going to have to go with what I do well and try to attack him."

Fish lived with the Roddick family in 1999 and the pair have been long time hitting partners. They had played five times, but never at a major.

Fish, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who is still on the comeback from wrist surgery in 2005, got a taste of a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time and said he's never seen Roddick more focused.

"You feel like he's on a mission," said Fish, adding that he thinks Federer is vulnerable.

"Absolutely," he said. "Roger doesn't like to lose, even in exhibitions.

"Maybe I'm making too much of the exhibition — or maybe not. Maybe that was one of the steps mentally that (Roddick) had to get over to take him out in one of these tournaments."

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