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Venus exits as Ivanovic advances to face Hantuchova in semifinal

1/23/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams followed her sister
Serena out of the Australian Open in the quarterfinals, both in
losses to Serbian players.

Venus went down 7-6 (3), 6-4 to fourth-seeded Ana Ivanovic on
Wednesday, a day after defending champion Serena lost to No. 3
Jelena Jankovic.

Ivanovic, who had never taken a set off Williams in four
previous contests, is into the semifinals for the third time at a
Grand Slam and next faces first-timer Daniela Hantuchova, who beat
Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2.

In the other women's semifinal Jankovic will meet No. 5 Maria
Sharapova, who ended top-ranked Justine Henin's 32-match winning
streak 6-4, 6-0.

After four straight losses to Venus Williams, including the
semifinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open,
20-year-old Ivanovic was thrilled to win.

"It was an amazing match and I'm just thrilled to get
through," the French Open finalist said. "In the last 18 months
I've come a long way.

"She's an amazing competitor and she was playing very well
today."

The Williams sisters have 14 singles majors between them, but
the hold that they once had on women's tennis is declining.

"There's been a lot of talk every single year," Venus Williams
said in response, again, to the question. "I think what's
important to me is what goes on in my head. I've been a champion. I
have full expectations and aspirations to continue to play
high-quality tennis and to continue to be a champion.

"And I think Serena and I, we don't have anything to prove. We
get out there and we play our best ... I don't get too caught up in
what the next person thinks."

Neither Ivanovic nor Williams showed any respect for the other's
serve.

There were six consecutive breaks in the first set alone.

Shaking her head and sighing, Williams had 21 unforced errors in
the first set to just seven winners as she sprayed the ball all
over the court.

"She played well and hit a lot of good shots... so I give
her a lot of credit," the Wimbledon champion said. "I have
nobody to blame but myself."

Williams won just one of her five service points in the tiebreaker,
covering her face with her hand after netting a straightforward
backhand volley to give Ivanovic a 5-2 edge.

Then, after swatting away flies three times as she prepared to
serve, Williams hit a swinging backhand volley into the net on set
point.

Williams, her left thigh heavily wrapped almost to her knee,
picked up her game dramatically to start the second set, jumping
out to a 3-0 lead. She was really pounding the ball, her grunts of
exertion sounding nearly like screams.

But it didn't last as Ivanovic broke back to get on serve. Then,
after Williams fended off a break point to take a 4-3 edge,
Ivanovic ran off the last three games, rallying from 15-40 as she
served for the match.

Hantuchova had not been to the second week of a Grand Slam
tournament since her quarterfinal exits at three consecutive
majors.

"It feels great. I kept fighting for every point, even in
matches I wasn't playing very well," she said. "I kept believing
I could do it, and here I am."

Hantuchova made
the quarterfinals of three straight Grand Slams -- Wimbledon and the
U.S. Open in 2002 and a loss to Williams in the Australian Open in 2003, but it's been a
dry spell since.

"I guess I had to get through all the tough times and get
experience in order to be able to get to this stage," said No.
9-seeded Hantuchova, who is the oldest of the semifinalists at 24.
"That's why I can appreciate moments like this much, much more."

Hantuchova was asked before she knew her semifinal opponent --
Ivanovic or Williams -- what kind of match she expected.

"You'll face a stiff test either way in the semifinals,"
Hantuchova said. "But I've got nothing to lose. I'm in a great
position."

The 18-year-old Radwanska had a dream run through the tournament,
beating second-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and 14th-seed Nadia
Petrova on her way to the quarterfinals.

"I made a few mistakes. I also had many chances, but I
didn't use [them] and the last points always she did better," Radwanska said.

"I tried my best, but [it was] not my day."

Sharapova will be looking back for lessons to take into the
semis against Jankovic, her old tennis academy pal.

The last time Jankovic and Sharapova played -- at the Birmingham
grass court tournament last year -- Jankovic beat the Russian in
three sets, including 7-5 in the decider. Sharapova has beaten
Jankovic twice on hard courts, including the U.S. Open's second
round in 2004.

Sharapova says that makes little difference to her.

"Previous matches don't count, this is a new encounter, a new
match," Sharapova said. "Ever since the juniors we've always
played really tough and we've always battled it out, and it's great
to see her in the semis. It's great we're playing together."

Jankovic has been hampered by a thigh problem since helping
Serbia to the Hopman Cup final, where it lost to the Serena
Williams-led United States.

She needed treatment during her first-round win here, when she
had to save three match points, and again against Williams.

"I'm like a wounded animal. I still keep going," she said,
adding for emphasis that she had a point to prove following a
fourth-round loss to Williams here last year.

"Getting revenge, it feels so good," Jankovic said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.