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Djokovic gets it right in Sydney

TOP-SEEDED Novak Djokovic avoided consecutive opening-match upsets, easily beating Paul-Henri Mathieu of France 6-1, 6-2 at the Sydney International yesterday.

Last week, Djokovic lost in the first round of the Brisbane International, blaming it on difficulties finding his rhythm with a new racket rather than poor form.

He backed up that claim yesterday with a strong display against Mathieu in searing heat at the Olympic Park Tennis Centre. The ambient temperature reached 36 degrees Celsius ?? conditions that should prepare him for his title defense at the Australian Open beginning Monday in Melbourne, where, about 800 kilometers to the south, it tends to get just as hot.

Top-seeded Serena Williams had the toughest of times in her women's quarterfinal yesterday, saving two match points in the 12th game of the final set before beating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Williams had to save four match points in her first-round match against Samantha Stosur of Australia, and had a straight-sets win in the second round before dueling with Wozniacki for 2 hours, 40 minutes at Ken Rosewall Arena in the quarterfinals.

It was the eighth time in her career that Serena has come from a match point down to win. On six of those occasions she has gone on to win the tournament.

"It definitely was lucky today," Williams said. "I had a lot of errors on easy shots. I really should have closed it off in two sets. I'm not really happy with the way I played today."

While the top-seeded Djokovic, who received a first-round bye, made it through, No. 2-seeded Gilles Simon was a second-round casualty, beaten 4-6, 4-6 by French compatriot Richard Gasquet.

Another Frenchman, third-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga downed Italy's Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 6-1, though last year's Australian Open finalist was troubled by a back complaint that twice required treatment.

Argentina's David Nalbandian also swept into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-3 win over accomplished French doubles player Michael Llodra.

Jeremy Chardy was the third Frenchman into the last eight, upsetting fifth-seeded Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, while seventh-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo was beaten 6-2, 6-1 by Mario Ancic.

Ancic will be the next opponent for his good friend Djokovic, with the top seed acknowledging the danger posed by the big-serving Croat.

Djokovic's own serve still wasn't perfect Wednesday with the new racket, but he was helped by Mathieu, who was only able to take advantage of three of his seven breakpoint chances.

"I was more or less happy with my consistency throughout the match," he said. "I wasn't really having a lot of ups and downs."

Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Finland's Jarkko Nieminen also won Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals.

Match points

Second-seeded Dinara Safina of Russia joined Williams in the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over France's Alize Cornet. Cornet saved four match points in the final game before Safina, who was serving, closed the match out.

But Safina called her play "a disaster" and said Cornet would have won if she were more experienced.

"She gave me the match," Safina said of the French player, who was up 4-1 in the second set. "It's not the way I want to win the match. I want to win it by myself, not that the girl loses to me. I don't like the way I'm playing. Just totally bad."

She said she would have to play more aggressively to beat her next opponent, veteran Ai Sugiyama of Japan. Sugiyama made it to the semifinals without taking to the court, receiving a walkover when former US Open champion and fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia withdrew with an abdominal strain.

Kuznetsova said the injury flares during serves and backhands and her physiotherapist had advised a few days' rest before she tests herself again in Melbourne.

Third-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia beat No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in another quarterfinal and will face Williams in the semis.


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