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Venus, Serena to meet in final; Roddick wins marathon

Williams vs. Williams

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Blisters, a big deficit and two match points couldn't derail the ''Serena Slam.''

Now only her sister stands in Serena Williams' way.

Serena rallied from two breaks down in the final set to beat Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the Australian Open semifinals Thursday and set up a fourth straight major final against her sister Venus.

''I'm a fighter,'' Serena said. ''I didn't come all these miles to lose.''

Serena beat Venus in the finals at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open last year. One more win means she will be the first woman to hold all four major titles at once since Steffi Graf nine years ago.

Venus started another big day for the Williams sisters by beating Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-3, 6-3.

Serena struggled to hold up her end, bothered by blisters on her right foot and a flurry of unforced errors.

Trailing 5-1 in the final set, Williams held serve and then saved two match points -- one with a volley winner to end a long point -- before breaking Clijsters' serve.

''I really didn't think I'd win it at that stage,'' Williams said. ''I just kept fighting, one point at a time. Next thing I knew, the match was over.''

Williams held again to make it 5-4. Clijsters then committed five straight faults to go down 0-30 and Williams eventually broke again to even the match. Williams then held serve to go up 6-5.

Williams broke Clijsters' serve at love to win her 27th straight Grand Slam match, throwing her arms in the air in celebration.

Williams struggled early. With a chance to even the first set at 5-all, she doubled faulted on the final two points to lose it. She had 22 unforced errors in the set.

After her sister arrived to cheer her on, Williams took advantage of tentative play by Clijsters to win the second set.

There was a nine-minute delay with Clijsters leading 2-1 in the third set when Williams needed an injury timeout to have blisters on her right foot treated.

Williams hopped around during the rest of the match, bothered by the foot.

Clijsters saved a break point to go up 3-1 then took control when Williams hit a forehand wide for yet another unforced error to make it 4-1. Clijsters held her serve the next game and appeared on her way to her second straight win over Williams.

She beat both Williams sisters to win the WTA Tour Championships last November but couldn't close the deal against Serena this time.

After rallying to win a three-set match against Emilie Loit in the first round, Williams rolled into the semifinals, losing only 15 games in her last four matches.

Graf held all four major titles after adding the 1994 Australian title to her victories in the other majors in 1993.

Graf also is one of only three women with a true Grand Slam. She did that in 1988, following Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.

After a relatively easy win to open the day, Venus skipped across the court, clapping her hand against her raised racket, and then waited for her sister to play.

''It's so exciting. You know, I've struggled and failed, done everything but get this close to winning the Australian Open,'' said Venus, who never had gone past the semifinals here before and lost in the quarterfinals last year.

But Venus has made four straight Grand Slam finals and once again her sister is standing in the way of a championship.

''Four in a row is real nice,'' she said. ''I guess, at this point, I have the best opportunity to take the title home. At least, I'm in a position to be a winner. Hopefully, this time I'll be the victor.''

Henin-Hardenne, who recovered from cramps late in the match to beat Lindsay Davenport on Sunday, tested Williams at times with deep, heavy shots.

Williams sometimes was overpowering on her serve, starting the second game of the second set with three of her eventual seven aces.

But she also struggled at times with her serve, losing the third game of the match with two double faults.

Serving for the match at 5-2 in the second, she reached her first match point but double faulted three times and lost the game.

She wrapped up the 74-minute match when Henin hit a forehand long to set up match point and then hit just wide with a forehand aimed at Williams' open backhand corner.

''She's a great player. It seems like I'm playing her all the time in the big matches,'' said Williams, who improved to 7-1 against the 20-year-old Belgian.

''I couldn't come out here and play immature. I had to play my best.''.

Henin-Hardenne, the 2001 Wimbledon runner-up to Venus Williams, said that after her 3 1/2-hour victory over Davenport, she still wasn't fresh.

''Venus played much more aggressively than me,'' she said. ''She returned well, she served beautifully and came more often to the net.''

Earlier Thursday -- at 12:47 a.m. -- Andy Roddick finally overcame Younes El Aynaoui 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 in a 4-hour, 59-minute match to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.

''Strategy was out the door; it was just pure fighting,'' the ninth-seeded Roddick said.

At 19-all, Roddick handed his racket to a ball boy to play the next point, then staggered to the corner of the court and plopped himself down, gasping air.

''I think that was a really cool moment,'' Roddick said. ''Whatever crazy number we were at, still kept some humor about the game.''

Roddick's next opponent will be 31st-seeded Rainer Schuettler, who beat David Nalbandian 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-0. Three-time champion Andre Agassi played Wayne Ferreira later Thursday in the other semifinal.



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