Lindsay gains semis; Molik's match streak ends at 12

Originally Published: January 26, 2005
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Lindsay Davenport overcame determined local hope Alicia Molik 6-4, 4-6, 9-7 on Wednesday to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time in four seasons.

Top-ranked Davenport twice served for the match in the third set, needing to fend of two break points in her last game before closing in 2 hours, 33 minutes with a powerful forehand that Molik couldn't reach.

"There were a lot of ups and downs out here," Davenport said. "I'm not sure how I'm standing here.

"I felt I was really lucky today -- after failing to finish it off at 5-4. She had a lot of momentum and I'm not sure exactly how I was able to get it back."

Davenport faces 19th-seeded Nathalie Dechy in the semifinals after the Frenchwoman beat Switzerland's Patty Schnyder 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 in the other quarterfinal, which at 2:33, took exactly the same amount of time to complete.

Schnyder, a surprise semifinalist here last year, converted only one of her nine breakpoint chances and needed four set points before taking a 1-0 lead in 59 minutes.

Dechy improved in the second, cutting her unforced errors from 24 in the first set to four in the second.

At times against Molik, Davenport looked despondent and frustrated, making 40 unforced errors and an uncharacteristic 11 double-faults -- including one to give the Australian the second set.

But the 28-year-old American, on the verge of retiring until surging to No. 1 in the rankings late in 2004, tightened up her game and played mostly percentages in the last four games.

"My game revolves around my serve, and I struggled a bit," Davenport said. "I just got out of complete rhythm. I have to be up there and take more pride in serving well.

"I was still able to win and get her back at the end."

Davenport won the Australian Open in 2000, the last of her three Grand Slam titles, but hasn't been back to the semis here since 2001.

Tenth-seeded Molik, who will be 24 on Thursday, sometimes ruffled Davenport but had lapses because of inexperience. It was her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and she was the first Australian woman to advance so far in the national championship since 1988.

She dropped serve in the opening game and despite hitting 43 errors, she tried to hit the lines too often on game points when a more conservative shot would have won it.

At 6-6 in the third, Molik fired an ace and threw the balls away, thinking she'd won the first point of a tiebreaker. She giggled after being reminded that this Grand Slam doesn't use tiebreakers in deciding sets, and fired another ace for a 30-0 lead.

She felt unlucky at 7-7 that what appeared to be a game-winning ace -- after she'd fired her 13th and 14th aces consecutively -- was called a fault. She was broken in that game on consecutive errors at deuce.

"The bottom line is I probably had a chance to win out there," said Molik, now 0-4 career against Davenport. "Today is the one that got away.

"It's a game of numbers, and I've won 38 out of the last 42 matches, so I can't be too disappointed. I gave it my best -- it was a battle out there -- but she just got me again."

Molik won the Sydney International title earlier this month and was bronze medalist at the Athens Olympics.

Davenport withdrew from the Sydney tournament with bronchitis and also pulled out of the Hopman Cup to give herself more time to recover from a knee problem.

After Molik lost the first set, the capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena tried to lift their hometown favorite. They waved both Australian and 'boxing kangaroo' flags as chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" rang out around the center court stadium.

It lifted Molik, but didn't bother Davenport.

Top-ranked Roger Federer had a lot less trouble advancing, playing so perfectly that he made Andre Agassi look average on Tuesday.

Defending champion Federer beat the eight-time major winner 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, taking the punch right out of the best counter-puncher on the circuit.

Federer hit 22 aces and extended his winning streak to 26 matches. He's also won his last 24 matches against opponents ranked in the top 10 and won 11 titles last year, including three majors.

"He just outplayed me," Agassi said. "He was too good. I would suggest to his next opponent that he doesn't look to me for advice."

That would be fourth-seeded Marat Safin, who lost to Federer in last year's Australian Open final and will face him this year in the semifinals. Safin ousted No. 20 Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

The other men's quarterfinals are No. 2 Andy Roddick vs. No. 26 Nikolay Davydenko, and No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt vs. No. 9 David Nalbandian.

"I came with high expectations. I wanted tonight to be memorable, but it's one I'd probably prefer to forget," Agassi said. "I never got my teeth into it, and when I don't get my teeth into a match, I can look pretty ordinary."

There was no high drama, nothing like the U.S. Open quarterfinal last September, when Federer won a five-set epic that spanned two days because of a rain delay and ended in high winds.

"I have no secrets," Federer said. "It's like roulette. I always pick the right numbers."

Serena Williams once won four straight majors -- from the 2002 French Open through the 2003 Australian Open -- but she hasn't played well lately. She'll face Maria Sharapova in the Australian semifinals in a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final.

Williams eliminated No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2, while Sharapova was on the verge of exhaustion when she clinched a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 over U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2 hours, 17 minutes in the baking sun.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press