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Serena saves family pride as sister Venus gone

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):

Serena Williams saved some family pride yesterday at the Australian Open - just.

After her older sister Venus' upset loss to China's Li Na in the previous match on Rod Laver Arena, four-time champion Serena was down a set and 4-0 in the second before she rebounded for a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Top-seeded Roger Federer overcame an awkward start to win 13 straight games and beat Nikolay Davydenko 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 to reach the semi-finals for a 23rd straight Grand Slam.

Novak Djokovic, who beat Federer in the semi-finals here two years ago en route to the title, was beaten by the man he defeated that year, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, in a later quarter-final.

Djokovic medical timeout

Tsonga beat Djokovic 7-6 (8), 6-7 (5), 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a near four-hour match and will play Federer in a semi-final tomorrow. Djokovic appeared to be affected by breathing difficulties and stomach problems during part of the match and took a medical timeout trailing 2-0 in the fourth set.

"I think I was in good shape, maybe better than him," 10th-seeded Tsonga said.

Andy Murray and Marin Cilic are already through to the semis from the other half of the draw and will play their match tonight.

Federer has impressed himself with his Grand Slam semi-final streak.

"It's incredible, looking back on how many years that is now, I'm able to deliver at Grand Slam play," Federer said. "For some reason, I was just a bit worried I was not going to make it this time in the semis.

"Now, obviously that it's safe again and I've been able to add one, definitely one of the most incredible things I have in my résumé."

Venus disappoints

Venus Williams couldn't make it to an expected sister semi-final, losing in a mistake-filled match featuring in a combined 110 unforced errors against Li.

The result is that Serena will take on Li, who beat Venus 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5. Justine Henin, playing in her first Grand Slam tournament in two years after coming back from a two-year retirement, will play Zheng Jie in the other semi-final.

Serena Williams was far from confident after the first hour of the match, thinking of her sister's loss.

"It was obviously on my mind," Serena said of Venus' defeat. "I saw maybe one or two points, maybe three. I don't want to watch too much, I get too nervous watching. Obviously, I was incredibly disappointed."

So she started off tentatively.

"I wasn't playing my best, especially in the first two sets," she said. "I was down the whole match from the first point. I wasn't surprised but I was definitely shocked."

Instead of wilting, she fought back from her big deficit in the second set with two service breaks of her own, easily won the tie-breaker and dominated the third.

Li and Zheng were the first Chinese pair to reach the quarter-finals at the same Grand Slam. Add semi-finals now, and could the final be possible?

Serena Williams and Henin, with a combined 18 Grand Slam singles title between them (Serena 11, Henin 7) would seem to have the inside edge. But Li, who lost the first set and was twice down breaks in the second, says anything can happen.

"In China, we say if you have tough time and then you return back, maybe have good luck," Li said.

Venus Williams had more mistakes than luck against Li, who called the win the "best day of my life" and said she might celebrate with a beer last night.

"It's important to put the ball in the court," said Venus Williams, who served for the match in the second set. "I felt like sometimes I made some errors."

That was an understatement. The pair's unforced error count went over the 100 mark midway through the final set, which produced eight service breaks in the first 10 games.

"I don't like losing at all," Williams said. "No one does. I put in a lot of hard work to come out here and get a win, I'm not at all pleased."