Top-seeded Serena Williams exited the Sydney International amid a flurry of errors against Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva yesterday, losing 6-3, 6-1.
No. 2-ranked Williams, who was forced to save three match points in her three-set quarter-final win over Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark late on Wednesday, will now head to Melbourne for next week’s Australian Open.
“I gave it away more than anything,” Williams said. “I made a lot of errors and made her look like a champ, really. I just pretty much gave her the match.”
The nine-time Grand Slam singles winner remained optimistic about her chances at the season’s first major, saying she is feeling fit.
“It was good to have a few matches under my belt getting ready for Melbourne,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to play a lot better than what I did this week.”
Dementieva will take on fellow Russian and No. 3-ranked Dinara Safina for the Sydney title in a reprise of the Beijing Olympics final.
Second-seeded Safina beat Japan’s Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 7-6 (3).
“I realize how tough it’s going to be to play against Dinara tomorrow,” Dementieva said. “She’s in great shape right now. But it’s going to be a great experience anyway. This is what we’re all here for. We just want to get the best preparation as possible and play our best in the grand slam.”
The Russian has noticed improvement in her game over the past year, notably following wins in Dubai early last year and her Olympic triumph.
“I’ve done a lot of good work. All these big results from last year really gives me a lot confidence,” she said.
Safina was prepared for anyone in the final.
“It’s going to be a good challenge, especially before the grand slam, to play somebody who’s in the best shape,” she said. “You cannot really play tactically with them. You just have to go out there and hit the ball.”
In the men’s tournament Argentina’s David Nalbandian scored a sweet victory over fierce Australian rival Lleyton Hewitt to power into the semi-finals.
The tournament fourth seed dominated with his groundstrokes from the back court as he parcelled up a 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 win over the former world No. 1 in one hour and 48 minutes.
Nalbandian, who still trails the feisty Australian 3-2 in career meetings, next plays Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
Unseeded Gasquet, a runner-up in last week’s Brisbane International, was too strong for compatriot qualifier Jeremy Chardy, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) in an earlier quarter-final.
Nalbandian has had a long, and at times, bitter rivalry with Hewitt since the Australian’s 2002 Wimbledon final triumph in straight sets.
Hewitt’s ranking has dropped to 74 since hip surgery last August, but he has been playing strongly in the Sydney tournament with victories over France’s Julien Benneteau and Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.
Nalbandian broke the Australian twice in both sets, but double-faulted on break point as he served for the match at 5-4 in the second set after decisively winning the opening set tiebreaker.
Top seed Novak Djokovic earned a 6-3, 6-4 win over Croatia’s Mario Ancic in the night quarter-final.
Djokovic will next play Jarkko Nieminen after the Finn received a walk-over into the semi-finals when his opponent, French third seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, pulled out with a lower back complaint.
Roger Federer passed a tough test yesterday to reach the final of Australia’s Kooyong Classic, needing three sets and more than two hours to defeat Fernando Verdasco.