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Dementieva in way of title; Roddick wins

4/1/2004

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- A serve by Serena Williams nearly hit
Eleni Daniilidou in the face. A point-blank exchange at the net
left Daniilidou looking like a dodge-ball target. And so when she
handed her racket to a ball boy in mock surrender, he quickly gave
it back.

Playing her first tournament since July, Williams advanced to
the final of the Nasdaq-100 Open by beating Daniilidou 6-4, 6-4
Thursday. Her opponent Saturday will be No. 5 Elena Dementieva.

"As far as I've gotten is a major confidence boost, regardless
of what happens," Williams said. "I really, really am proud of
myself because it's hard to come back. It's nerve-racking."

Dementieva will try for a Williams sweep. She upset three-time
champion Venus on Wednesday and won an all-Russian semifinal
Thursday night, beating No. 8 Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-2.

"As far as I've gotten is a major confidence boost, regardless
of what happens," Williams said. "I really, really am proud of
myself because it's hard to come back. It's nerve-racking."

Dementieva said she'll have nothing to lose when she plays
top-seeded Serena.

"It's a great experience for me to see what I can do against
her," Dementieva said. "I did great already, so I'm going to try
my best on Saturday."

Andy Roddick and Vince Spadea advanced to the Key Biscayne
semifinals for the first time and will meet Friday. The No.
2-seeded Roddick came from behind twice and won the final four
games to beat No. 5 Carlos Moya 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.

"I feel like I've cheesed through a couple of matches this
week," Roddick said. "Hopefully we can make something of it this
weekend."

The unseeded Spadea, who won his first career title last month
in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 29, beat No. 20 Agustin Calleri 7-5,
6-1.

Williams smacked 28 winners in her semifinal victory, and when
she hit back-to-back aces midway through the second set, Daniilidou
turned to the ball boy for help.

Williams' reaction?

"Hit another ace," she said.

"I couldn't even see where she was serving," Daniilidou said.
"She serves unbelievable. Today I think it was the key."

The top-seeded Williams is 5-0 since returning last week from an
eight-month layoff following knee surgery. She has won 17
consecutive matches at Key Biscayne, and she's bidding to win the
tournament for the third year in a row.

Making her return less daunting has been the absence from the
field of the five top-ranked women, including No. 1 Justine
Henin-Hardenne, who decided to skip the tournament. No. 2-seeded
Venus Williams won't be an obstacle either -- Dementieva upset her
Wednesday to prevent the first all-Williams final since Serena beat
her older sister at Wimbledon last year.

Against Daniilidou, Serena raced to quick leads in each set but
still showed occasional rust. She was broken while serving for each
set and committed 25 unforced errors.

But she displayed considerable variety in her shotmaking. On one
point she hit a 111-mph serve, an overhead and a running forehand
crosscourt winner.

Williams' best shot was her serve. She hit seven aces, with
Daniilidou ducking out of the way of one.

"I'm surprised by my serve," Williams said. "It just comes
out. It's perfect."

When she ripped a forehand crosscourt winner to reach match
point, she brandished a fist and roared. Daniilidou then sent a
forehand wide to give the victory to Williams, who hopped in
jubilation.

Daniilidou, seeded 25th, won every set in her first five matches
and beat Jennifer Capriati, the runner-up the past three years. But
she was repeatedly handcuffed by Williams' powerful strokes.

"She played just too good," Daniilidou said.

Moya had the edge through most of his match against Roddick and
served for a berth in the semifinal leading 5-4 in the final set.
The Spaniard double-faulted and hit three errant forehands to lose
the game.

"One of the worst games I ever played," Moya said. "Probably
I got tight."

Roddick erased a break point in the next game with a spectacular
forehand crosscourt winner, then broke again in the final game,
closing out the victory with an overhead slam.

"He was the better player pretty much all day," Roddick said.
"Lucky for me, I think he just got a little tight at the end. He
gave me a gift of a game. I would love to claim all credit for it,
but that's not the case."

The other men's semifinal Friday will be an all-South American
matchup between No. 3 Guillermo Coria of Argentina and No. 21
Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.