Roddick advances after Djokovic quits in quarters

Updated: January 28, 2009, 12:49 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- After struggling under a searing sun, Serena Williams found her rhythm when the Rod Laver Arena roof was closed Wednesday and advanced to the Australian Open semifinals.

Williams, a three-time Australian champion, was only one game away from a quarterfinal exit before recovering to beat Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

Williams, who has nine Grand Slam singles titles, was thankful that the roof was closed over the court when the tournament's Extreme Heat policy came into effect after she'd dropped the first set.

The temperature had risen to 107 degrees by then. When the air conditioning finally kicked in, so did Williams' performance.

Until then, she said, "I was in like an out-of-body experience."

Down a set and a break and with Kuznetsova serving for the match, Williams broke back to get even at 5-5 when Kuznetsova missed an open-court volley that turned the match.

Williams held and then broke Kuznetsova's serve again, pulling to a set apiece with a forehand winner down the line.

The American broke to lead 3-1 in the third and then, after saving two breakpoints with a pair of forehand winners, the result was never in doubt.

After beating the Russian, she joins three others in the semifinals.

"Me against the Russians, I guess," she said.

Williams next plays Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva, who ousted Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2 in Wednesday's earlier match.

Olympic silver medalist Dinara Safina and No. 7-seeded Vera Zvonareva meet in the other semifinal.

Dementieva questioned the wisdom of leaving the stadium open for her match as temperatures reached 104 degrees.

The roof stayed open for the first set of the Williams-Kuznetsova match, but the tournament's Extreme Heat Policy was put into effect at the break between sets -- giving the players time to refresh and organizers time to close the retractable roof.

The temperature rose to 109 degrees as the afternoon progressed, the start of a heatwave predicted in and around Melbourne through Saturday.

"I was in a lot of trouble. I just relaxed," she said. "I just wanted to fight and at least play three sets."

Williams has won the Australian title in 2003, 2005 and 2007. She's two wins from continuing the odd-numbered sequence.

"I just have to keep playing well and just go for two more," she said.

While the Williams-Kuznetsova match was interrupted for 10 minutes to close the roof, matches on outside courts were suspended or rescheduled to be played in the second closed arena.

Dementieva made a fast start against 20-year-old Suarez Navarro of Spain, who upset Venus Williams in the second round, winning 16 of the first 18 points for a 4-0 lead.

She raced through the first five games in 22 minutes and, after eventually holding serve in a sixth game that went to deuce 11 times and lasted 17 minutes, finished off in 1 hour, 35 minutes.

"You can work so hard trying to get ready for the weather conditions, but when you have to face 40 (104 Fahrenheit) or 41 (106), there is no way you can get used to it," Dementieva said. "The best way is to play as quick as possible and just get away from the court. I mean, there is no way to adjust with the heat here."

Both players were soon draping towels packed with ice around their necks during changeovers and sought shade as long as possible behind the baselines between points.

Dementieva was having particular problems with her high service toss as she looked straight up into the sun, double-faulting four times in that long game. She finished with 10 double-faults.

She blamed that on the harsh sun.

"Usually when you're playing at 11 a.m., it's not that strong. But today it was a very dangerous sun and very strong," she said.

Even local wildlife was struggling in the heat, with moths fluttering onto the court and dropping dead.

"It was hot for everyone, you know," Dementieva said. "They were like ready to die; not to survive a day like that."

Fourth-seeded Dementieva had never gone past the fourth round in 10 previous trips to Australia. Now she's only one win from reaching a third Grand Slam final. The 27-year-old Russian lost the French and U.S. Open finals in 2004.

Rafael Nadal, who beat Roger Federer in the French Open and Wimbledon finals and then overtook him at No. 1, plays No. 6 Gilles Simon of France in the men's quarterfinals later Wednesday.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who upset Nadal in the semis here last year before losing the final to defending champion Novak Djokovic, faces Spanish Davis Cup winner Fernando Verdasco.

Djokovic dropped out of the tournament Tuesday when he retired ill from his quarterfinal against Andy Roddick while trailing two sets to one. Roddick will play Federer in a semifinal.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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