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Russia, Americas all square in HK

VENUS Williams beat Anna Chakvetadze in straight sets yesterday but Vera Zvonareva defeated Gisela Dulko in a late match to leave Team Americas and Team Russia tied 1-1 in the best-of-five final at an exhibition tournament in Hong Kong.

Williams bested Chakvetadze 7-6 (1), 6-3 before Zvonareva survived a comeback by Dulko to win 6-4, 0-6, 6-3.

Chakvetadze played well in the first set, responding to Williams' power-hitting with crafty counter-punching and big hitting of her own, but the Russian couldn't maintain her form in the second set.

"She's able to chase down a lot of balls," Williams said. "Against a player like that, it's just important to focus on what's happening on my side of the net and realize that I might have to hit two or three extra (balls). The reply might be a little shorter so I might have the chance to come in to be more aggressive."

Williams also beat the top-ranked Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in straight sets on Thursday in the semifinals against Team Europe at the warm-up event for the Australian Open.

Chakvetadze was up 4-2 in the first set, but Williams broke back in the eighth game. The Russian then missed two straight forehands in the tiebreaker to give Williams a 6-0 lead.

"It's tough to play her," Chakvetadze said. "She hits very hard."

Williams broke Chakvetadze twice to take a 5-1 lead in the second set, but the Russian saved two match points to hold serve in the seventh game and then broke Williams to stay in the match. However, Williams broke right back, sealing the win as Chakvetadze missed a forehand down the line.

In Auckland, Elena Dementieva and Elena Vesnina set up an all-Russian final at the ASB Classic with contrasting semifinal wins yesterday.

Top-seeded Dementieva, ranked No. 4, swept past Aravane Rezai of France 6-2, 6-2 in 67 minutes while Vesnina battled for 2 hours, 57 minutes to beat Britain's Anne Keothavong 6-7 (3), 6-1, 7-5.

In reaching her first WTA final, Vesnina set up a meeting with her doubles partner Dementieva and produced the 17th all-Russian final in WTA singles since 2003.

"I'm very excited. This is my first final and I'm playing against Elena," Vesnina said. "We played against each other a few years ago. She's an amazing girl, a very good player and a real sportswoman."

Dementieva continued her steady form improvement through the tournament to brush aside the hard-hitting Rezai, last year's beaten finalist, in sets lasting 33 and 34 minutes.

Rezai tried to upset the tall Russian with her aggressive play and powerful ground strokes but Dementieva, despite struggling with her second serve, was able to absorb and turn back the pressure.


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