Nalbandian into semifinals for the first time
By JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer
January 23, 2006
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- David Nalbandian advanced to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time, overwhelming veteran Frenchman Fabrice Santoro 7-5, 6-0, 6-0 on Tuesday.
The fourth-seeded Nalbandian was down a break in the first set, but reeled off 14 consecutive games to dominate the day's first quarterfinal.
Santoro, 33 and playing in the quarterfinals for the first time in 54 majors, was 13-0 when he got his first serve into play at the start.
He won 34 points in the first set, but won only 16 in the next two sets.
Santoro had Nalbandian sprinting from side to side, net to baseline, chasing drop shots, volleys and lobs until the 24-year-old Argentine got his ground strokes working and started passing him on both sides.
"In the beginning it was very tough, windy," said Nalbandian, the Masters Cup champion. "Also, Fabrice has a very special game. It's not easy to come and hit winners from the first point.
"In the first set I was a bit nervous -- when I got a bit of confidence, I started hitting harder and better, with angles near to the line."
Nalbandian clinched it with a backhand service return, his 47th winner of the match.
He will play the winner of Tuesday's later quarterfinal between No. 7 Ivan Ljubicic and unseeded Marcos Baghdatis, who upset second-seeded Andy Roddick in the fourth round.
Santoro and Nalbandian exchanged service breaks before Santoro, serving to stay in the set at 6-5, was broken. At 0-30, the Frenchman had a rare ace but on his next point hit a backhand wide before Nalbandian blasted a forehand to the opposite corner to take the set, shouting "Si.'
From 5-5 in the first, Santoro never had a game point.
By making the final four at Melbourne Park, Nalbandian has reached the semifinals at all four Grand Slams. He lost the Wimbledon final in 2002 to Lleyton Hewitt.
Nalbandian, who lost in the quarterfinals in the previous three Australian Opens, said his upset win over top-ranked Roger Federer in the season-ending Masters Cup at Shanghai in November had increased his confidence.
"I'm in semis this year, and I hope to win it," said Nalbandian, the highest ranked player on the bottom half the draw.
Martina Hingis' comeback has gone so smoothly that she's in the Australian Open quarterfinals against second-seeded Kim Clijsters following a three-year layoff.
Back on the tour for just three weeks, the three-time Australian Open champion advanced Monday with a 6-1, 7-6 (8) victory over Samantha Stosur 6-1, 7-6 (8).
Hingis needed four match points to beat Stosur. The five-time Grand Slam winner, who dropped off the tour because of ankle, heel and foot injuries, returned to competitive tennis Jan. 2 and hasn't lost a set at this tournament.
Her Swiss compatriot Roger Federer overcame an uncharacteristic 58 errors in his 6-4, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 fourth-round win over Tommy Haas.
"I was really trying to just break his momentum. Tommy was making it difficult for me to play," Federer said. "To be honest, I like to be pushed like this."
Davenport and Henin-Hardenne meet Tuesday, while 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova goes against fellow Russian Nadia Petrova.
Federer will meet fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters.
After crashing simple overheads into the net in the third and fourth sets, Federer regained an unwavering calm opening the fifth, when he hit 18 of his 66 winners and cut his errors to six.
In the sixth game, he peeled a forehand down the line, turned an improvised, bunted a backhand service return into a winner and secured the pivotal break by forcing the 41st-ranked Haas to go for too much on a forehand.