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Del Potro knocks out Nadal, Serena in final

ARGENTINE Juan Martin Del Potro scored a dramatic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 victory over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal to reach the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Big-serving Del Potro, who came back from 0-3 down in the third set, will face Andy Murray for a place in the final after the Briton crushed an injury-hampered Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-1, 6-2.

The tall Argentine takes his place in the last four of a Masters event for the first time with the crowd-pleasing victory. It was also his first win over Nadal at the fifth attempt.

"Maybe it was wonderful for the crowd but it was terrible for me," said Nadal. "I think I played really bad all the time. That's the truth of this match. Later when I was 3-0 up in the third I played worse.

"I had the match, it was amazing disaster," he added.

In an atmosphere more akin to a South American soccer match, Del Potro, who lost to Nadal in Indian Wells last month, was roared on by hundreds of Argentinian fans who sensed an upset from the moment their man broke in the first set to go 5-4 up.

Having served out to win the opening set, Del Potro broke early in the second but then the 20-year-old from Tandil faced the inevitable fightback from the Spaniard, who played some powerful strokes around the court to win the second.

Nadal looked on course for victory when he broke twice early in the third to go 3-0 up but with the fans chanting his name, Del Potro, looking wild in his sleeveless shirt and headband, found the strength to mount a revival of his own.

The Argentine broke back twice to go to 3-3, levelling the set with a brilliant cross-court drive.

Both players then stuck largely to the baseline, but at 6-5 to Del Potro, Nadal had to serve to save the match and found himself 15-40 down after going to the net and putting the ball out wide to the right.

In WTA action, Serena Williams retained the No. 1 ranking by being her sister Venus 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the semifinals. The match was the 20th meeting between the sisters, and each has won 10 times.

Serena needed to reach the final to retain the top ranking she has held since February 2. Otherwise she would have been supplanted next week by No. 2-ranked Dinara Safina of Russia.

"I'm excited," Serena said. "I was thinking I'd love to remain No. 1. I think I was more happy about that than winning the match."

Serena's opponent today will be 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who beat 2006 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.


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