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AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Clijsters and Sharapova gain semis

Kim Clijsters had to grit her teeth to get past Martina Hingis, setting up a semifinal showdown with Maria Sharapova. (RICK STEVENS/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MELBOURNE -- Kim Clijsters had another quarterfinal win over Martina Hingis despite a rash of unforced errors and moved into the Australian Open semifinals against top-seeded Maria Sharapova.

Fourth-seeded Clijsters won, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, today, breaking Hingis's serve in the last game and ending the match with a forehand passing shot.

"I wasn't really seeing the ball; the only thing you can do is to work for every point to try to turn things around," said Clijsters, who made 62 unforced errors and dropped serve five times. "I knew it was going to be a tough one. It could have been my last match here, so I'm glad to have one more."

Clijsters ended Hingis's remarkable comeback run here in the quarterfinals last year, when the Swiss star was returning from three years off the circuit because of injuries.

Hingis had won three straight titles from 1997-99 and then lost three consecutive finals before quitting.

Clijsters has made the semifinals here on every trip since 2002 -- missing the 2005 tournament because of injuries -- but has never won the title. The 23-year-old Belgian said she will retire at the end of this season.

Sharapova advanced to the semifinals for the third straight year with a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 win over Anna Chakvetadze.

The top-seeded Sharapova, guaranteed of gaining the No. 1 ranking next month, had trouble on her serve, double-faulting on break point three times.

But she had the only point on serve in the tiebreaker, where the last 8 points finished on unforced errors.

The US Open champion was broken when serving for the match at 5-3 and wasted a match point with a backhand error in the next game.

Sharapova got 2 more match points in the 12th game and finished it off in 2 hours 14 minutes when Chakvetadze netted a forehand.

"It was very difficult; I didn't feel like we had a lot of easy rallies," Sharapova said. "I felt I had to work on every point."

Sharapova was very inconsistent, smacking clean winners to take one game, then committing glaring mistakes to lose the next. She finished with 32 winners but six double faults and 41 unforced errors and won only 3 more points than her opponent.

Sharapova, who looks toward her father, Yuri, sitting in the stands after almost every point, got a warning for getting coaching from him as she served at 0-30 with the score tied at 2-2 in the second set. She then ran off 4 straight points to take the game.

"I was a little up and down, a bit scratchy," Sharapova said. "I am glad I got through, but next time will even be tougher."

Sharapova is into the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the third straight year and is among the last four at a major for the eighth time.

In the men's quarterfinals yesterday, Andy Roddick was ruthless, treating his close friend like little more than warmup fodder for his semifinal showdown with Roger Federer.

The 2003 US Open champion flattened Mardy Fish without blinking, making only four unforced errors in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win.

"I played pretty flawless, I thought," Roddick said. "I feel good going into the semis."

Federer, who lost to Roddick in the final of an exhibition tournament 10 days ago but has a 12-1 record in official ATP matches against him, dropped his serve four times in a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5 win over No. 7 Tommy Robredo.

"The break of serves, they're due to the wind, I assume," Federer said. "I had to kind of change my game around a little bit. I think my attacking style really worked out well -- I'm really happy to have come through."

Federer has been ranked No. 1 since February 2004, and next month he'll break Jimmy Connors's record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the rankings.

Roddick and eight-time Grand Slam winner Connors teamed up as student and coach last July to try to challenge Federer's domination.

That has coincided with Roddick returning to the top 10 and becoming a contender again to take a major from Federer.

"For the past probably five or six months, the gap has either been closing a little bit or just he hasn't been extending it," Roddick said. "That's a good thing.

"I feel like I'm in good form. I'd love to see where I match up."

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