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Melbourne Highlights - Day 9

by Alexandra Willis
Tuesday 24 January 2012

Tuesday was the day that attack beat defence at Melbourne Park. Starting with Victoria Azarenka against Agnieszka Radwanska on the hottest day yet of the 2012 Australian Open, it was about going for broke on these bright blue hard courts, and finding a way to muscle it out.

Azarenka has been a nearly woman of women's tennis for a while, reaching only the one Grand Slam semi-final so far, it's not unreasonable to say that an upset in the quarter-finals in Melbourne would not have been atypical. Especially against a player of the calibre of Radwanska, one of the most natural athletes in the women's game, even if she cannot pack quite the same punches as everyone else.

When Radwanska ripping through the opening set tie-break to love as the Belarusian suffered a meltdown of sorts, it looked like Azarenka would be forced to wait for her being moment yet again. But she must have had some words with herself in between sets one and two, because she dropped just 10 points throughout the second set, handing Radwanska a horrible bagel.

Taking the third in similar style, losing just two games, Azarenka progressed, as promised, to the semi-finals.

Her opponent there will be another exponent of forceful attack, Kim Clijsters, after the Belgian took no notice of her wobbly ankle and Caroline Wozniacki's persistent defence to come through in two sets.

Wozniacki is much improved since she played Clijsters as a star-struck teenager in the US Open final in 2009. But she couldn't contend with the Belgian's power and force of will, Clijsters even surviving surrendering a 5-2 lead in the second set to take the win in a tie-break, three forehand winners punching her through.

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If Azarenka v Clijsters is a contest to savour, the first of the men's semi-finals is one that tennis fans will be talking about for days as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer set up their first meeting in a Grand Slam semi-final since the 2005 French Open, Nadal's 19th birthday.

First past the post on the way to their 27th career meeting was Federer, competing in his 31st consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final against Juan Martin del Potro, a rematch of the 2009 US Open final. That day, Federer was shell-shocked by the burly Argentine over five sets. Today, there was no repeat. Federer was in a wings-on-his-feet sort of mood, accelerating through against Del Potro 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. His 1000th match under his belt, and his 2000th, 2001st, 2002nd sets won, Federer next looks to another number on his list. Grand Slam singles titles – 16 could well be 17.

But to keep that quest alive he will have to beat Nadal for the first time at Melbourne Park, the pair having competed just once on Rod Laver's court, in the 2009 final. Nadal won that one in five sets, Federer famously crying "it's killing me".

For a set, however, it looked like Nadal might not make it to meet his most famous rival. Tomas Berdych, in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, brought a bazooka to the court today, and for a set, Nadal couldn't compete. The set ended in controversy on a tie-break, Nadal wanting to challenge, but having run out of time, before Berdych calmly aced his way through set point.

With the second set tighter than a drum, Nadal went up, then was pegged back, before finally claiming it in a tie-break. The third and fourth were more simple, the Spaniard looking more and more like the man that lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup here three years ago.

It will be a fascinating fight.

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It was a tough day for the junior competitors in Melbourne, forced to deal with temperatures far hotter than they are otherwise used to. Canadians Filip Peliwo and Eugenie Bouchard progressed without ado, as did top seeds Luke Saville and Irina Khromacheva.

But there was disappointment for No.3 seed, Wimbledon boys' singles finalist Liam Broady, who departed at the hands of Czech Robin Stanek, and Luke Bambridge, felled by fourth seed Kaichi Uchida.

There was better news though for Josh Ward-Hibbert, who saw off eighth seed Stefano Napolitano in straight sets, and Kyle Edmund, the seventh seed, who came through in three against Pol Toledo Bague.

In the girls' event, besides top two seeds Khromacheva and Bouchard, third and fourth seeds Anett Kontaveit and Yulia Putintseva also progressed.

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For all the reports and results from Melbourne Park, visit the Official Australian Open website


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