Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na in semis
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Caroline Wozniacki showed her fighting spirit Tuesday on center court and then dealt a knockout punch to the tall tale of the kangaroo that briefly upstaged her tennis at the Australian Open.
After surviving a scare against Francesca Schiavone to reach the semifinals, Wozniacki walked into her news conference wearing boxing gloves and holding a large, inflatable kangaroo.
The charm offensive continued. This one was aimed at Australians, who have a special affinity with the boxing kangaroo symbol that represents the spirit of their national sports teams.
"Now, I'm actually ready to fight," said Wozniacki, threatening the toy kangaroo with a left hook before she removed her gloves and flashed her trademark smile.
The 20-year-old Dane rallied from one set and a break down to beat French Open champion Schiavone 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. The victory not only put her into the final four but secured her No. 1 ranking.
This is Wozniacki's first Grand Slam as No. 1, and she has faced constant questions about whether she deserved the ranking without having won a major. The subject prompted a series of entertaining news conferences.
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The first one, after her third-round victory, was a sort of self-declared coming out party. Wozniacki announced that she wanted to overturn a perception that she was boring and turned the tables on the media by playfully blaming reporters for asking dull questions. She invited more interesting questions, which she answered lightheartedly -- on her taste in men, her family, her piano skills and how to stop global warming.
A star was born -- until the next round, when it dimmed. On Sunday, she announced that a cut on her shin was the result of an encounter with a kangaroo in a public park. The story was instantly published, and then retracted a few hours later when Wozniacki called another news conference to say she was just kidding.
"You know," she said. "That's my blonde. Sometimes that happens."
Cut to Tuesday when Wozniacki was truly tested for the first time on the court. She had cruised through to her quarterfinal without dropping a set and needing a total of only 5½ hours in four matches.
Schiavone's passage to the quarterfinal was more difficult. The sixth-seeded Italian's previous round against 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova lasted 4 hours, 44 minutes and set a Grand Slam record for the longest women's singles match. It meant Schiavone entered the quarterfinals drained from a combined 11 hours of tennis.
But the 30-year-old Schiavone took a strong early lead against the well-rested Wozniacki. She sent the No. 1-player in futile pursuit of short shots, deep shots, sideline zingers and showed no wear from her earlier marathon.
Trailing a set and a break at 3-1 down in the second set, Wozniacki won the next six games straight. The final set began with a string of service breaks from both players. Wozniacki prevailed despite some shaky moments at the end, when Schiavone saved three match points.
The match ended with a dramatic pause. On the fourth match point, Schiavone hit a backhand return down the sideline that the linesperson called in. The chair umpire overruled the call, which Wozniacki challenged and won when the high-tech "Hawkeye" replay system showed it had just landed out.
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Schiavone said she left feeling "a little disappointed" but nonetheless "fantastic." She has been playing the best tennis of her career. When Schiavone won the French Open at 29 she became the first Italian to win a major.
By reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne, Schiavone is expected to rise to No. 4 in the rankings, the highest ranking ever held by an Italian woman.
Wozniacki said Schiavone never let her into the match.
"And once she's on fire she's on fire," Wozniacki said. "I just kept fighting, and in the end it paid off."
Then, she posed for pictures beside the blowup yellow kangaroo, which had green boxing gloves and "Australia" emblazoned across its chest.
"I know there were a lot of requests for me to have a picture with the kangaroo, so here it is," she said, flashing the smile.
Next up for Wozniacki is China's Li Na in the semifinals and the possibility of her first Grand Slam title.
"I mean, if I'm No. 1, it's fantastic," Wozniacki said. "But I've already reached one of my goals of reaching No. 1. Now, I'm just thinking about this tournament and trying to win two more matches."
The No. 9-seeded Li broke her German rival's serve three times in the first set and twice in the second, recovering an early break in each set and playing more consistently than Petkovic.
Li lost the 2010 semifinal in two tiebreak sets to eventual champion Serena Williams.
"It's good for me -- second time in a Grand Slam semifinal always in Australian Open," Li said. "Hopefully I can do better in this year. I don't want to lose in semis again."
The 28-year-old Li was the only quarterfinalist from the last Australian Open to reach the last eight this year.
She has extended her winning streak to 10 matches this year, including her title run at the tune-up tournament in Sydney, where she became the first Chinese player to win a WTA Premier singles title.
No Chinese woman has won a major, but Petkovic thinks that can change here.
"I think she played really well. I think she's going to win the tournament," Petkovic said. "She moves very well, she has a great footwork. She takes the ball very early. She plays flat and deep. She has this sneaky aggressive play, I would call it."
Li thanked Petkovic for the vote of confidence but said she still had two difficult steps to make. A win would certainly be career defining.
"Wow, amazing for me, amazing for my team," she said when asked how she'd react to winning a Grand Slam title. "Maybe amazing for China tennis also."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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