fed, serena bounce back

MELBOURNE - Roger Federer and Serena Williams needed all their fighting qualities to remain in the Australian Open yesterday after China's Li Na stunned Venus Williams to join compatriot Zheng Jie in the semifinals.

MELBOURNE - Roger Federer and Serena Williams needed all their fighting qualities to remain in the Australian Open yesterday after China's Li Na stunned Venus Williams to join compatriot Zheng Jie in the semifinals.

They are the first two Chinese players to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam.

Federer reeled off 13 games in a row to dig himself out of trouble and beat Russia's Nikolay Davydenko 2-6 6-3 6-0 7-5 in a wildly fluctuating match.

Serena was also staring down the barrel in her quarterfinal against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus before she recovered to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Her elder sibling might have joined her but threw away a match-winning lead in her 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 loss to Li.

Federer made it through to his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semifinal but only after a titantic struggle with Davydenko, who won the opening set then got an early service break in the second.

The world No 1 was struggling just to stay with Davydenko as the sun started setting and shadows started creeping on to the Rod Laver Arena but seized his opportunity when the Russian suddenly went off the boil.

"I've played him many times and I know he goes through phases, you just try to stay positive," the Swiss said. "I wasn't playing terribly, just struggling with the sun coming across. It's like a rain delay, you just wait."

Federer's next opponent will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who came back from two sets to one down to beat third seed Novak Djokovic 7-6 6-7 1-6 6-3 6-1 later yesterday.

Serena showed why she remains the toughest woman in the world to beat, battling back from the brink of defeat to remain on course to defend the title she won for a fourth time last year.

The American lost the opening set to Azarenka then went behind 4-0 in the second as she started to doubt herself before she rediscovered her self-belief and found a way to win.

"I'm surprised. I didn't expect to win when I was down in the second set," she said. "I thought if I lost the singles and the doubles, I could catch a flight on Friday. It's not what a champion is supposed to think but I did."

Venus was two points away from wrapping up a straight-sets win when she stumbled on her serve and allowed Li back into the match.

"In tennis you have to close it out. It's not like there's a clock ticking and then suddenly it's over," Venus said. "You just have to close it out. I didn't do that today."

The once unimaginable prospect of an all-Chinese final is suddenly looming as a real possibility after Li followed Zheng Jie into the semis. Zheng beat Maria Kirilenko 24 hours earlier and plays Justine Henin in today's semis while Li faces the daunting prospect of playing Serena.

"In China we say if you have a tough time and then you bounce back, maybe you have good luck for after," Li said. "So I still believe that." - Reuters

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