Williams, Dementieva advance
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 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."
"I felt I was watching someone play in a blue dress, and it wasn't me, because it was so hot out there," she said. "And I kept trying to tell myself that it's not hot, you know. But it got hotter ... ."
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 break points 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.
Dementieva questioned the wisdom of leaving the stadium open for her match as temperatures soared.
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. Williams also got her rackets restrung in the break.
"I finally started playing a little better in the end of the second set," she said. "I felt like I was really, really off before."
Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and only other major winner in the quarterfinals, said she was angry the roof was closed.
"It gave her more chances," Kuznetsova said. "Definitely it was a big change. I was very comfortable playing outside.
"She has big serve. She was using it very good when the roof was closed. I guess it was in her favor very much," Kuznetsova said. "Definitely angry. Why should I not be?"
The temperature rose to 109 as the afternoon progressed, the start of a heatwave predicted in and around Melbourne through Saturday.
Williams 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 , 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.
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.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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