Thu, Jan 26, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Djokovic, Murray to face off in semis

SHOWDOWN:While the top four men’s players will battle it out for the title, three of the four semi-finalists in the women’s draw are also battling for the No. 1 ranking

AP, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Russia’s Maria Sharapova returns to compatriot Ekaterina Makarova in their Australian Open women’s singles quarter-final in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Defending champion Novak Djokovic appeared physically unwell for much of his quarter-final match, but he still beat David Ferrer 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 to complete a blockbuster semi-final lineup at the Australian Open.

He leads the top four men in tennis to the semis at Melbourne Park — Djokovic against world No. 4 Andy Murray, who won his quarter-final match earlier yesterday 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 over Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Today, world No. 2 Rafael Nadal plays world No. 3 Roger Federer, the first time the two former top-ranked stars have met in a semi-final since the 2005 French Open.

Djokovic rubbed the back of his upper left leg on several occasions, looked on the verge of being physically sick in the second set and buried his head in towels several times during breaks. During the third set, a tired-looking Djokovic sat down on a linesman’s chair during a line-call video challenge by Ferrer.

“I was lucky to get out of the second set, it was a big mental advantage to get two sets up,” Djokovic said.

After the match, he appeared to play down any on-court physical difficulties, saying: “You have to hang in there.”

The Nadal-Federer semi-final matchup has been rarely possible because the pair held the top two spots for most of the time between 2005 and 2010, meaning they could only meet in the finals after being placed in opposite sides of the draw.

Djokovic said he would be watching the Nadal and Federer match like any tennis fan.

“I will enjoy it from my couch, they’re two out of four or five of the greatest players to play this game, they’ve been so dominant,” Djokovic said. “Every time they play it’s a treat. I’m going to have a nice dinner at home and watch them.”

Murray, for his part, is also surprised not to be facing Nadal in the semi-finals.

“It has been amazing, I pretty much drew to be in Nadal’s half ... almost every Slam,” Murray said. “I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t in his half of the draw. It’s been a long time.”

On the women’s side, former and reigning Wimbledon winners Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova — two of the three players who can take the world No. 1 ranking — advanced to the semi-finals.

Sharapova won 6-2, 6-3 against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who knocked out five-time champion Serena Williams in the previous round. Kvitova reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over unseeded Italian Sara Errani.

The other player who can reach world No. 1 — third seed Victoria Azarenka — plays defending champion Kim Clijsters in the other semi-final today.

Sharapova must repeat her 2008 Australian title run if she is to take over the No. 1 spot from Caroline Wozniacki, who lost any chance of maintaining her top ranking when she lost in the quarter-finals to Clijsters.

Kvitova only has to match or better Azarenka to take the top spot.

Sharapova has dropped one set and lost 21 games in five matches.

“It’s been a long road back to this stage,” said Sharapova, who spent 10 months off the court with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Sharapova held the world No. 1 ranking for seven weeks each in 2005 and 2007, and for three weeks in mid-2008.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in that position before,” Sharapova said. “I think the girls that are trying to get that position haven’t been in that position before. It’s a little bit different because I feel like I’ve experienced both things in my career — winning Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world. You can’t compare the two.”

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