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January 27, 2010

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Australian Open 2010, Melbourne, Australia
January 27, 2010
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Semis Set For Singles
January 27, 2010 -- Tennis matches aren't usually decided on one point, or one game. Over the hours the ups and downs of competition absorb brilliant blasts that momentarily blind us to everything that unfolds between the crack of the first serve to the last point.
However, today's quarterfinal matches between Roger Federer and Nikolay Davydenko, and between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, were rare examples of a point and a game that turned two matches.
As we know, the mighty Federer was cruising toward dismissal mid-way through the second set. He was down a set and a break. Davydenko had arrived at The Rod Laver Arena court revved-up and ready to make the afternoon a quick one. They played turbo tennis in set one. Amazingly fast games of figure-eights, which the Russian controlled.
Federer, known for his speed and footwork, was pushed back on his heels and fell behind in rallies. He struck the ball late, and shanked a complimentary few. He committed 17 unforced errors to Davydenko's 5. He had no break chances. And, Nikolay converted enough to break twice. If he had skipped to his chair tucked beneath the umpires roost, no one would have had a second thought.
To Federer's credit, he took a bathroom break. His head must have been full. He came out sharper, but Davydenko's tennis dictated. He went up a break.
In the sixth game, everything spun 180 degrees. Federer pounced on his first break point of the match, converted and drew even. He ran off the next thirteen games. Fans must have scratched their heads as they watched the former tennis star known as Nikolay Davydenko fall apart. He tumbled from a top-seeded player -- #6 -- to one more aptly ranked 300.
I think it's just one game," Davydenko began. "I don't know what's happened there, like after 3-1 in the second set. If I can win this game, and for sure after this one, if I be 4-1, I have chance to win. But change something, 3-2, and I lost then everything. I lost second and third set, and so easy. I cannot explain yet what's happen."
Here's what happened... Federer dug in his well-manicured nails and ran like the wind. The #1 player in the world grabs and goes, and doesn't look back. Ride the wave. Send the guy home.
Not until the fourth set did Davydenko come up for air and reinvent the man that 15,000 fans witnessed in the first set. He mounted a comeback, attempting to take the match to a final and deciding fifth set. But the momentum had switched. His engines were tired. He played a few inspired points. However, he could not sustain his efforts in the end. His serve fell apart. Without that he lost his bearings.
"Yes, I have chance again [in fourth]," Davydenko began. "I again have chance at 5-all. I lost my serve fighting. But, again, bad luck. Maybe Federer was really lucky today. (Laughter in pressroom). Again."
Serena Williams, the defending champion, lost the first set of her match to Victoria Azarenka 6-4. The Belarusian was hot. She took every chance she got. Serena looked lost.
In the second, Azarenka was two games from victory -- 4-0. She knew the match wasn't over, though. It's one game at a time. Additionally, Serena never gives up. She has mounted comebacks from match points down in 2007 and 2003. She is a champion first and foremost in her mind.
"I know she's gonna fight until the last point," Azarenka said.
As soon as Serena got on the scoreboard -- 4-1 -- the expectations and direction of the match reversed. Although Azarenka had out-played the American for the first set and a half, Serena flicked a switch in her mind as soon as that one game was hers; and, the curtain started to come down on Azarenka.
"She started playing unbelievable, I think, from 4-love," Azarenka explained. "She was really in the zone at that point. She really went for her shots, and she made them in. I think it's impressive the way she does it. I had my chances. She has very powerful shots. You don't see many girls serving 200 in the third set."
Williams' serve is the best on the WTA tour. She began to hit her spots with ease. She returned bullets off Azarenka's serve. A couple times she hadn't finished her service motion when Williams's return landed for a winner. Azarenka was left helpless, but remained aggressive.
"In the second set I had 42% first serve, which really isn't very good," Williams said. "I was still able to win that. I knew if I could just do a little better and make a little less errors, I knew I could be better."
Novak Djokovic brilliant play in the first three sets of his quarterfinal encounter with Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should have indicated to fans that the 2007 men's champion was a shoe-in to make his way to the semifinals. In the third, he won an astonishing 89% of points off his second serve.
But there was no reversal of fortune for the Serbian who remains on the hunt for his second Major title, since winning the Australian Open in 2007 when he defeated Tsonga.
Instead of cruising to the finish line, Djokovic got physically sick and left the court to vomit.
"It was unfortunate that I couldn't perform on the level that I wanted to in the fourth and fifth set," he explained. "I don't want to find excuses for my loss, but, you know, I went to vomit and I had diarrhea before the match. Just a terrible feeling."
You could watch, point by point, the depletion of Novak's energy. He literally unwound in front of our eyes. He was pale, but courageous at moments. He did not give up, and finished the match. Last year, he retired in his quarterfinal against Andy Roddick when overcome by heat exhaustion. Since temperatures this year have been 30-40 degrees lower, Djokovic was expected to stay the course in a five set match.
"I had a little problems with the stomach even before the match," he added. "No, the big deal I started feeling after third set when I just -- I couldn't hold on. After two games I had to go to the toilet. Otherwise, I would throw up on court."
Venus Williams wasn't as fortunate as little sister Serena today in her match against Na Li. Venus had two match points in the second set and was up 4-2 in the third. Williams squelched her lead with a combination of unforced errors off her sloppy forehand plus a total of 11 double faults.
"I'm nervous on the first set," Na Li said. "Venus played aggressive in the first set. I was feeling more pressure in the first set. I was feeling a little better in the second set, but still was like 5-3 down. Then I just try to pay more ball back. Maybe have chance and then I do it."
"I felt confident going into the match," Venus explained. "I felt confident throughout the match, even in the third. I was leading. Like I said earlier, in tennis you have to close it out. It's not like there's a clock ticking and then suddenly it's over. You just have to close it out. I didn't do that today."
Na Li's and Jie Zheng's places in the semifinals marks the first time two Chinese women have advanced that far in a draw at a Major.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
January 26, 2010 Australian Open: It's Something To Think About
January 25, 2010 Australian Open: Tennis's Tough Standards
January 24, 2010 Australian Open: Competition, Pure and Simple
January 23, 2010 Australian Open: Stosur, Hewitt Advance, Dellacqua Goes Home To Perth
January 22, 2010 Australian Open: Little Known, Little Being Said
January 21, 2010 Australian Open: The Happy Slam
January 20, 2010 Australian Open: Margin Of Error
January 19, 2010 Australian Open: Soderling Shocked, Oudin Ousted
January 18, 2010 Australian Open: And We Begin, Again; Australian Open kicks off with impromptu benefit for Haiti

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