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Clijsters beats Wozniacki to move into semifinals

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POSTED January 24, 2012 1:31 a.m.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Kim Clijsters is moving on to the Australian Open semifinals, and Caroline Wozniacki is moving out of the top spot.

Two days after saving four match points and spraining her left ankle in a fourth-round win over French Open champion Li Na, Clijsters showed no signs of weakness as she continued her title defense at Melbourne Park with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) quarterfinal win over Wozniacki.

The four-time major winner next plays third-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who beat No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-2 earlier Tuesday to move into the semis of a Grand Slam for the second time.

Wozniacki needed to reach the semifinals to retain the top ranking she has held at the end of the last two seasons. Her place in the rankings has attracted some criticism because the 21-year-old Dane has never won a major.

But even after another major setback, Wozniacki remained confident she’ll not only reclaim the top ranking but will get her Grand Slam breakthrough.

“You know, I will get it back eventually, so I’m not worried,” she said. Critics “talk to me like I’m finishing my career and I only have one year left and time is running out.

“The fact is I still have quite a few good years in front of me.”

Clijsters slipped to No. 14 after beating Li Na in the last Australian final, losing in the second round at the French Open and then missing the next two majors due to injuries. But after losing her first four finals in the majors, she’s learned how to win them.

She set an example for Wozniacki of how to go about it.

Both players started nervously on Tuesday, with three service breaks until Clijsters held in the fourth game. The 28-year-old Belgian dictated play from her first hold until she was serving for the match while a break up in the second.

She had the rally on her racket at 30-30, but let her guard down and allowed Wozniacki back into the match. Wozniacki took a chances and got back level, going into the tiebreaker with momentum.

Clijsters had never lost any of her eight previous tiebreakers at Melbourne Park, and she hit a backhand down the line to take a 5-4 lead. She set up double match point with a cross-court forehand winner and sealed it with a volley.

“It definitely didn’t feel like being up a set and 5-2,” Clijsters said. “I had to work really hard for it. Caroline is a great fighter.

“I was happy to get through, and not in a three-setter because it’s so hot,” she said.

The crowd at Rod Laver Arena was solidly behind Clijsters from the start, shouting “C’mon Kimmie” in between nearly every point and cheering when Wozniacki missed a shot.

Four-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer is another crowd favorite. He had the next scheduled match on Rod Laver against U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal played Tomas Berdych in a night match.

Azarenka opened the action on Rod Laver in a match that contained 15 breaks of serve, including eight in the first set.

After being comprehensively outplayed in the opening tiebreaker, Azarenka won seven straight games to move closer to the victory that kept her among the three players who can overhaul Wozniacki at No. 1.

The 22-year-old Belarusian, who makes a distinctive hooting sounds as she hits the ball, extended her winning streak this season to 10 matches, including a title at Sydney, where she beat Radwanska in the semifinals. She served six double-faults and had 38 unforced errors, but showed maturing mental resolve but holding her nerve on the big points.

“I’m really happy with my win. I think it was very important to see how I could adjust after not playing really well in the first set,” she said. “I completely turned it around.

“Today I really tried to forget about the first set and start from zero and really fight hard. So I think that was a different mental approach a little bit.”

Five-time champion Serena Williams is already out of the tournament. Her 17-match winning streak at the Australian Open ended in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 56-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.

The margin equaled the biggest Grand Slam defeat of Williams’ 17-year career.

Makarova will face three-time major winner Maria Sharapova in an all-Russian quarterfinal.

Sharapova rallied past Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 before defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic fended off a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic last match of the day, winning 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

With Hewitt’s loss, Australia’s chances of celebrating a home singles winner were over. American hopes had already evaporated with the defeat of Williams — her first in Melbourne since 2008 and earliest since 2006.

“I can’t even describe how I served, to be honest,” said Williams, who finished with seven double-faults, including four in one game in the second set. “My lefty serve is actually better than that. Maybe I should have started serving lefty.”

Williams tried not to blame her left ankle injury from a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago. But she didn’t move well and seemed to have particular difficulty running to her left. She said if it hadn’t been a Grand Slam, she wouldn’t have played at all.

“Usually I play myself into the tournament,” Williams said. “But I don’t have a huge problem with an injury. So this is a completely different situation. Usually it’s easier for me to play myself in because I’m usually physically OK.”

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova had a 6-2, 7-6 (2) win over former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic on Monday and will next play Sara Errani of Italy, who beat 2010 semifinalist Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-1.

Djokovic had won 23 straight sets at Melbourne Park before he suddenly wobbled against Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam champion who has slipped to No. 181 in the rankings after a series of injuries.

Hewitt, a wild-card entry in his 16th straight Australian Open, rallied from 3-0 down in the third set in front of a raucous home crowd to force a fourth set, but Djokovic gathered his composure.

Next up for Djokovic is fifth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain, who had a surprisingly easy 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win over Richard Gasquet.

Two-time finalist Andy Murray advanced when Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan retired after 49 minutes with a left hip injury while trailing 6-1, 6-1, 1-0. After knocking out the first player from Kazakhstan to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam, Murray’s next opponent will be another history-maker.

Kei Nishikori beat sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to become the first Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open since the Open era began in 1968.

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