Top-ranked Roger Federer overcome a pesky challenge from No. 12 James Blake 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 Wednesday to reach the Australian Open semifinals.
The victory kept alive Federer's drive to win here for the third consecutive year and pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
He next faces No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who beat No. 5 David Ferrer 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to join two Serbian women in the semifinals. Ana Ivanovic ousted Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-4 earlier Wednesday, while Jelena Jankovic ousted Serena Williams a day earlier. It's no fluke: the same three players reached the French Open semifinals last year on clay, proving they can win just about anywhere. Djokovic also reached the Wimbledon semifinals and was runnerup to Federer at the U.S. Open.
U.S. flags were outnumbered by Swiss ones on a perfect night for tennis, and Federer had to be nearly perfect to beat Blake, who used his powerful forehand, often running around his backhand, to keep the Swiss star from taking control of points as much he prefers. This was high-quality tennis, and the fans in packed Rod Laver Arena were on the edge of their seats as neither player gave an inch.
The two players exchanged early breaks in the first two sets. With a tiebreaker looming in the first, Federer set up a break point as Blake served at 5-6 with a forehand volley winner, and Blake then sent a forehand long on the next point.
The pattern was similar in the second set. Blake saved two set points while serving at 4-5 and three more after falling behind 6-2 in the tiebreaker. But there are only so many escapes possible against Federer, who finally cashed his sixth set point on a service Blake couldn't get back.
Federer was cruising at 5-1 in the third set when Blake, refusing to yield, ran off three straight games. Federer finally held to finish it off.
Serbia has a population of 10 million _ half the size of Australia, which has zero home players left here, and not much more than New York City. Despite a shortage of facilities it is producing a lot of budding tennis players, just like the rest of Eastern Europe.
Russia's Maria Sharapova, ranked fifth, plays No. 3 Jankovic next, while No. 4 Ivanovic will play No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who beat Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday. Ivanovic had never won a set off Williams in four previous meetings, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open. But she has improved her fitness dramatically, and it showed against Williams, who put in another lackluster performance and had her left thigh heavily taped. "I was looking forward for some revenge," said the 20-year-old Ivanovic. "I'm just so, so happy I managed to step up and keep my composure."
Neither player showed any respect for the other's serve. The first set had six consecutive breaks, with Ivanovic hitting several winners off returns and Williams shaking her head and sighing after her 21 unforced errors .
"I was really happy I managed to break her," Ivanovic said. "But then my serve was a little bit shaky."
Williams picked up her game dramatically to start the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. She was really pounding the ball, her grunts of exertion sounding nearly like screams.
Ivanovic refused to wilt. She broke back, then ran off the last three games, rallying from 15-40 as she served for the match. "I have to give a lot of credit to her," Williams said. "She played really well, made a lot of good shots. She's definitely improved on everything in her game. That's really what it takes at this level. You want to keep improving and playing, because we're all improving."
The Williams sisters have 14 singles majors between them, but their one-time dominance on women's tennis is under serious challenge.
"There's been a lot of talk every single year," Venus Williams said. "I think what's important to me is what goes on in my head. I have full expectations and aspirations to continue to play high-quality tennis and to continue to be a champion. "And I think Serena and I, we don't have anything to prove. We get out there and we play our best ... I don't get too caught up in what the next person thinks."
With a group of teenage girls squealing when he won big points, Djokovic pounded his big serve and mixed up his baseline game. He had Ferrer constantly on the run and moaning when he had to sprint in for a number of well-disguised drop shots. The Spaniard won only 11 points in the first set.
Djokovic started to lose his nerve toward the end, yelling at the crowd for shouting while he tried to serve.
"There's no excuse for that. I was very nervous and was behaving very badly, I'm very sorry about that," he later said. "I have a lot of expectations and pressure, and sometimes it's difficult to stay calm on the court. But I'm working on that."