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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Men’s final four meritshot at championship

MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic had to work to overcome fighting Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 to complete a dream lineup of the world’s top four into the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The world number one lined up a semifinal against Andy Murray which is a repeat of the 2011 final the Serbian won to kick-start a record-breaking year with 10 titles overall, including three of the four Grand Slams.

Fourth seed Murray did his part by defeating Japan’s best-ever men’s player, Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, third and second respectively, are already through and play their semi on Thursday.

Djokovic looked to be encountering some breathing problems during his workout against Ferrer, a gallant retriever ranked fifth who stretched the first set to an hour.

“I knew it would be long after the first few games,” said Djokovic, who felt fortunate to claim victory in three sets. “I was lucky to get out of the second set. It was a big mental advantage to have that lead.

“I had to come up with winners against David, with his big fighting spirit. I was not feeling very fresh, but I had to step it up. I wasn’t sure if I could win in straight sets, but the momentum was on my side.”

Djokovic ducked any specific answerer as to what might have bothered him when he occasionally bent over on his haunches or appeared to be struggling for breath after brutal rallies.

The Serb has a day to rest and recover and said he plans to be on his couch watching when longtime rivals Nadal and Federer go at it.

Two-time finalist Murray buried the upset dream of Nishikori to reach a fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.

Fourth seed Murray is desperate to end a title drought at the majors after losing the 2008 US Open final and the last two at Melbourne Park.

Nishikori, ranked 26th, the highest ever for a Japanese man, had the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders in the biggest match of his career.

But he paid the price against the on-form Scot, who has yet to lose a match since taking on former great Ivan Lendl as his coach three weeks ago.

“I was just a little bit more solid today and probably had a little bit more in the tank than he did,” Murray said.

“With the way that he plays, you know, he needs to play a lot of long rallies, that was to my advantage today.”

Women also moved ahead into their semis, where Petra Kvitova will meet Russian Maria Sharaova in a repeat of the 2011 Wimbledon final won by the Czech.

The match will also be of prime importance in the fight to succeed Caroline Wozniacki on world number one, with both players and third seed Victoria Azarenka in with a chance to take the WTA lead at the end of the event.

Kvitova reached her first Melbourne semi-final 6-4, 6-4 over Italian Sara Errani. Fourth seed Sharapova needed four match points to beat fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3.

The second semi-final pits holder Kim Clijsters against Azarenka after both advanced on Tuesday.

“I thought she was going to play really well today coming off a big win, probably her biggest in her career,” Sharapova said of Makarova, who put out Serena Williams in the previous round.

“It was just really important for me to not give her much of a look at the open court. I just really wanted to take advantage of my game and improve from the previous match. I think I stepped up when I had to.”

Kvitova recovered from 4-1 down in the second set to run out the victory over Errani.

“In the beginning, I was a little nervous because I knew that everybody expected it to be an easy match,” the Czech said. “Sara played very well. She’s had a great tournament here. It was not really an easy match.

“I had to wait for the time to go for winners. The mistakes were really lower in the second set. That was the key.”