Tennis: Nadal, Dimitrov, Serena roll into semis

Sports Wednesday 25/January/2017 20:34 PM
By: Times News Service
Tennis: Nadal, Dimitrov, Serena roll into semis

Melbourne: Rafa Nadal continued his brilliant revival at the Australian Open to topple Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 on Wednesday and reach his first Grand Slam semifinal in three years.
The ninth-seeded Spaniard joined Roger Federer in the last four, keeping alive the prospect of a dream final between the two great rivals who have claimed 31 Grand Slam titles between them.
Having not reached a major semifinal since his 2014 French Open title, the 30-year-old Nadal produced a match from his halcyon days to fell the third-seeded Canadian in two hours and 44 minutes at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal will play 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria for a place in the final - with Federer taking on fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in the other semi - after the Spaniard emphatically batted away doubts that his best days were long gone.
"I think I am not a very arrogant person so I always have doubts," he said in a court-side interview.
"Even when I was winning I had doubts and even more so when I had injuries. But doubts make you work harder.
"I have had a great career but I had some tough moments so that makes me enjoy moments like this even more," he added.
Nadal had to save six set points as Raonic pressed hard in the second set but he was clinical on the big points and broke the Canadian to love to wrap up the match in style.
The Rod Laver Arena terraces roared their approval as the 2009 champion pumped his fists in celebration, having endured two lean years at the Grand Slams.

Prior to the match, Nadal said he needed aggression or would be "dead" against Raonic, and he made his intentions clear by standing in close against one of the game's biggest servers.
Nadal had his first look at Raonic's serve in the fifth game, a break point going begging when he fired a cross-court passing shot into the net cord.
The Spaniard kept chipping away and passed truly on his next attempt to bring up break points. Raonic, wheeling back to retrieve a defensive lob that appeared set to sail long, then mis-hit the volley to drop serve.
Nadal served out strongly, grabbing the set with an imperious overhead smash.
Raonic took a medical time-out after holding serve to lead 3-2 in the second set and emerged to pressure Nadal's serve.
A double-fault from the Spaniard offered two set points when he was serving to stay in the set at 5-4.
Nadal saved them both and then a third with a trademark full-swinging forehand down the line.
The threat passed when an off-balance Raonic parried a volley into the net and Nadal roared "vamos!" as the terraces cheered.
The match shifted up a gear in the tiebreak, both players unleashing an array of exquisite shots.
Raonic curled a sumptuous lob flush into the corner to win another two set points, but lost them both, the second with a double-fault.
The Canadian sprayed a forehand wide at 7-6, and Nadal crunched a huge serve to edge ahead.
With the tension reaching boiling point, Raonic pounded a huge forehand cross-court, but it nicked the net cord which sent the ball flying into the tramlines to hand Nadal the set.
The Canadian returned to his chair fuming, having let slip six set points, where Nadal had needed just one.
Raonic did not lie down, however, holding serve grimly against some furious counter-attacking before everything came apart in the 10th game.
Facing three match points, Raonic rushed forward to try to counter the relentless Spaniard, and a last desperate volley fell short to leave Nadal pumping his fists in celebration.

Dimitrov wins
Grigor Dimitrov dismantled 11th seed David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in their Australian Open quarterfinal on Wednesday to advance to his second Grand Slam semifinal.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian, whose previous Grand Slam semifinal was at Wimbledon in 2014, will meet either Rafa Nadal or third seed Milos Raonic in the last four.
"In the first set it was absolutely nerve racking," Dimitrov said. "I felt that I could play well but I was not striking the ball as well as I could and I was a bit passive. "With each game I was feeling a bit better and I was finding my groove. I'm just happy now."
Dimitrov took the first after racing to a 3-0 lead as Goffin blew his opening service game with a double fault and two unforced errors, a pattern that was set for the match.
The baseline battle continued in the second set with both players breaking each other's serve early, but the Bulgarian seized the advantage in the third game with a second break and then again in the seventh when he broke again.
Dimitrov, seeded 15th, wrapped up the second set with a forehand pass that swerved around Goffin at the net.
Dimitrov's potent forehand got him out of trouble several times as he forced Goffin wide or left him with no shot after landing the ball right at the Belgian's feet.
The Bulgarian failed to convert two match points on Goffin's serve at 5-3 but raced through his next service game to seal the win with a backhand winner down the line after two hours, 12 minutes.
"I have been on a tremendous roller coaster," Dimitrov said of the last two years, which saw him drop outside the top-40 after being in the top-10 in early 2015.
"But I am happy with the way things happened the way it did, otherwise I wouldn't understand myself and I'm now appreciating things a lot better.
"To be in the semifinal of a slam means too much for me now."

Mirjana's fairytale
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's leg hurt so bad she thought she might have to be wheeled out of Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday but the gutsy Croat hung tough to record a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over fifth seed Karolina Pliskova at Melbourne Park.
The 34-year-old, whose only other appearance in the last four of a Grand Slam was against Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1999, will play world number two Serena Williams in the semifinal after the American beat Britain's Johanna Konta.
The German-born righthander won her first singles match at Melbourne Park in 1998 but had to wait 19 years for her second victory in the year's opening Grand Slam last week.
Reaching the last four was beyond her wildest expectations.
"I can't believe this, this is crazy," she said. "I can't believe I'm in semifinal again. I feel a little bit in shock right now."
The incredible run almost came to an end on Wednesday when the pain got too much to bear for Lucic-Baroni, who played with heavy strapping around her left thigh and calf.
Trailing 4-3 in the deciding set, she took a five minute medical timeout and was still limping when she returned. But somehow she lifted her game to a new level, rattling off 12 of the next 13 points to race through the final three games and close out the match.
"I was really worried. I didn't know if I had it in me to finish it," Lucic-Baroni told reporters. "I started hurting pretty bad mid-match, especially at the end.
"I was really concerned with my physical wellbeing at that point. And I just said to myself, 'They're either going to wheel you out. I'm not going to give up, just keep fighting'.
"And that was it."
The timeout changed the momentum of a match that had already produced several twists and turns, with both players seizing the advantage at certain points but never really dominating.
"When I took the medical timeout, I wasn't really sure how I was feeling," she added. "I felt in that moment only God can help me."
Lucic-Baroni's aggression saw her seal the first set in 32 minutes and she looked in control after a strong start in the second, but after Pliskova got a break back and took a medical timeout to fix strapping on her right foot the momentum shifted.
The fifth-seeded Czech ran away with the second set to level the match, and while she carried the momentum into the decider she failed to capitalize.
Lucic-Baroni looked to be on the way out of the tournament when she called for the timeout at 4-3 down, but the fairytale was far from over.
Despite her injuries, Lucic-Baroni was not concerned about having to face Williams on Thursday. She has not had a moment's rest during the tournament anyway as she made the quarterfinals of the doubles with Germany's Andrea Petkovic.
"I'm going to recover, do some therapy, and I'll be fine," she said. "I'll just put some extra tape on and hopefully it will hold me together."

Serena in semis
Serena Williams remained on course for her 23rd Grand Slam title by quelling the challenge of in-form Briton Johanna Konta 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinal of the Australian Open for the eighth time on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old American served up 10 aces and thumped 25 winners over 75 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to join sister Venus in the last four, where she will play Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Ninth seed Konta, who reached the semifinal here last year and won the Sydney warm-up tournament, managed a single break in the second set but was unable to cope with the power of the world number two.
Williams succeeded in finding the target on less than half of her first serves but cleaned up the points on 88 percent of the occasions when she did.
Furious with herself at times because of her inaccuracy, Williams channelled the anger to overcome 25-year-old Konta and reach her 34th Grand Slam semifinal without having given up a set in five matches.
"I missed a lot today, I got a little frustrated, then I told myself 'Serena, stop complaining don't be a Baby-rena out on court there'," she said.
"I admit I complain a lot... but I said to myself, 'just have fun and try to enjoy the moment' and I did."
Williams is seeking her seventh Melbourne Park title, which would assure her of a return to world number one in place of ousted champion Angelique Kerber.
She started the match reasonably slowly, feeling out an unfamiliar opponent desperate to force her out wide to the wings of the court.
Williams saved a break point to hold on her second service game and pounced to go 3-1 up when the Briton dumped a backhand into the net after a long rally.
Another Konta error, a forehand long, gave Williams the set and the American was immediately applying pressure on her opponent's serve at the start of the second.
Konta rallied from 0-40 to hold, however, and then broke Williams to go 2-1 up when the six-times champion overcooked a crosscourt forehand.
The pressure on Konta's serve was unrelenting by this stage, though, and Williams raced around the court like a teenager to break back before a sizzling backhand winner gave her the chance to serve for the match.
Williams said she was delighted to be facing 34-year-old, Lucic-Baroni, some 18 years after their only two previous meetings in 1998.
"It's really amazing, 30 is the new 10," Serena added. "I'm so proud of Mirjana, she has been playing so well.
"We played over a decade ago, nearly two decades ago. She's been playing two decades. No matter what happens, someone 34 or older will be in the final, so that's great."