Seles upsets Williams to reach semis at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (TICKER) — Monica Seles turned back the clock and Venus Williams.
Seles reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in more than two years on Tuesday with a 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-3 victory over the third-seeded Williams at the Australian Open.

The eighth-seeded American showed flashes of the player that dominated the 1990s along with Steffi Graf in reaching her first major semifinal since the 1999 French Open and stopping Williams’ 22-match winning streak.

Seles has won the Australian Open four times, capturing the last of her nine Grand Slams here in 1996.

She will face third seed Martina Hingis of Switzerland in the semifinals. Hingis handed Seles her first defeat in 34 matches at Melbourne Park in 1997, going on to win the first of three straight crowns here.

Hingis posted a 6-2, 6-3 victory over unseeded Italian Adriana Serra Zanetti to advance to her sixth straight Australian Open semifinal.

This is the 19th Grand Slam semifinals for Hingis, who has advanced to the final here the last five years. She remains on course to claim her first major since capturing the last of three at Melbourne Park in 1999.

On the men’s side, No. 16 Thomas Johansson defeated Jonas Bjorkman, 6-0, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the first all-Swedish quarterfinal since 1993 to advance to his first career Grand Slam semifinal.

Johansson will take on No. 26 Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic, who routed unseeded Austrian Stefan Koubek, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, to reach his first major semifinal.

All four matches were played under the retractable roof of Rod Laver Arena due to rain.

Williams, who had her right thigh heavily taped, won the first set in 50 minutes but suffered a hamstring injury.

“I really started feeling it around 4-3,” said Williams, who called for the trainer at 4-4. “I really don’t know when I did it or what happened. It was really strange because I’ve had pain in areas before where I’ve been hurting but never where it just sort of came up on me so quickly, where I’ve never had pain in that area before.”

Seles started to rally right away, opening the second set with a break of serve. She broke again before evening the match by winning the set in just 32 minutes.

The former world No. 1 took advantage of two of Williams’ 49 unforced errors to break serve in the fifth game of the deciding set. She withstood a challenge while leading 4-3, but broke again in the final game to defeat Williams for the first time in seven meetings.

“It was such a see-saw match and to pull through it and to stay really focussed at the end was really good,” Seles said. “One or two service games really helped me out there and I was pretty lucky to end up winning from being 0-40 down. I didn’t really think about winning or it slipping away. I was just worried about the next point at that stage and really throughout the match.”

Seles, bothered by a sore throat, even made the most of Williams’ injury timeouts.

“I was just having a hard time getting air and then she called the trainer and I thought, `Gosh, it’s going to be one of those strange matches.’ You’ve just got to stay within yourself and that’s what I tried to do and it worked well,” she said.

Seles believes she will be physically fine for her meeting with Hingis. She is just 4-13 lifetime against her Swiss foe, but has won the last two encounters.

“Physically, I really shouldn’t be exhausted,” Seles said. “The only thing is that I’m fighting a fever, so I was worried a little bit about that but right now I feel fine. A lot of players are having this virus and hopefully I will get through it so it doesn’t sap my energy. It was really good to be playing indoors and not having the outside effects of heat and wind.”

Williams, the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion, endured her first loss since a quarterfinal setback to Meghann Shaughnessy in the quarterfinals of the Benk of the West Classic last July. But she did not blame her loss on injuries.

“I did run for a lot of shots but there were a lot of shots I didn’t run for, where I normally just scrap it back and just give my opponent one more look at the ball,” Williams explained. “A lot of the time I didn’t do that but I think she played well and she capitalized on all her opportunities, whereas I didn’t always. That was the story of the match.”

Williams had 39 winners and 15 aces but committed 10 double faults. She converted just 1-of-6 break-point chances while Seles was 5-of-7 on break-point opportunities and had 24 winners and 25 unforced errors.

Hingis had needed less than 3 1/2 hours to get through the first four rounds but was stretched to 73 minutes by the 83rd-ranked Italian. The two were meeting for the first time in their professional careers but had squared off early in their junior years, with a 10-year-old Hingis defeating a 14-year-old Serra Zanetti.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Hingis said. “She’s had a great tournament. It was good to get a speedy player today. She was hitting down the lines. She played very well.”

Hingis gained the early advantage at 3-1 and closed out the set in 38 minutes. She broke for a 2-0 lead in the second, setting up a string of three straight breaks. But Hingis sealed her 43rd match win at the Australian Open by converting her fourth match point.

“This is what players like me wait for — the big occasions,” she said.

The 21-year-old Hingis is happy to have had an easier time getting through the draw than she did last year, when she needed to win an 8-6 third set against Serena Williams in the quarterfinals and defeat Venus Williams in the semifinals before succumbing to Jennifer Capriati in the final.

“It’s nice to get through it easier than last year,” Hingis said. “I think it’s part of the reason (that I lost). But if you reach the finals here you try to give it all. I mean, the finals is the finals. It’s not like Jennifer had the easier way to go through it. She also had to beat Monica and Lindsay (Davenport), so those are not two players which are nobody. Hopefully, I get another chance to be in the finals.”

Hingis also is feeling refreshed and eager after missing the end of 2001 after tearing three ligaments in her right ankle in October.

“It was also nice that it was almost the end of the season,” said the former world No. 1, who started the season with a tournament win in Sydney. “I only missed out on two tournaments. So it wasn’t like I missed out on half of the season, or something. So it was like great timing at that point, I could say. Sometimes it’s nice, definitely, to — it’s not that it’s forced, but you have time to regroup and just relax and then go 100 percent behind everything.”