Djokovic Moves Closer in Defense of Australian Open Championship

Defending champion Novak Djokovic overcame David Ferrer to join Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova completed the women’s final-four lineup.

Djokovic, the world No. 1 from Serbia, defeated fifth-seeded Spaniard Ferrer 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 at Melbourne Park to reach his seventh straight Grand Slam semifinal, where he’ll face No. 4 seed Murray of Britain. The Serb is trying to win his third successive major, after taking the titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

“We played almost three hours and the first half-an-hour was just two games,” Djokovic, who hurt his left hamstring in the second set and at times rested his hands on his knees between points, said in a televised court-side interview. “That’s enough said. Already after a couple of games, I was feeling like this is going to be a long night.”

Djokovic’s victory ensured that the top four-ranked men’s players made the semifinals for the third time in four Grand Slams. No. 2 Nadal of Spain and third-seeded Federer of Switzerland won yesterday to advance to their first final-four showdown at a major since 2005, which is scheduled for the night session today.

In women’s semifinals action today, defending women’s champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium plays Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, followed by Sharapova against Kvitova in a re-match of last year’s Wimbledon finals.

Long Rallies

Djokovic, who now leads Ferrer 7-5 in career meetings, at times needed as many as 34 strokes to win the rally against the consistent Spaniard. After taking the first set with a forehand winner, the Serb seemed in control as he broke serve in the opening game of the second set. Ferrer broke straight back in the fourth game as he increasingly started to dictate the long baseline rallies. Djokovic had held his left hamstring after stretching for a backhand at 2-1.

In the second tie-break, Ferrer raced to a 3-1 lead. Djokovic fought back to 4-4 as the Spaniard made an error following a long rally during which the Serb twice nearly won the point yet couldn’t finish it off. A forehand winner down the line set up two set points for Djokovic, who clenched his fists and looked at his coach Marian Vajda as he took a two-set lead on another Ferrer error.

“I was lucky to get out of that second set,” said Djokovic, who won the match with an ace after racing to a 5-1 lead in the third set. “There was a big mental advantage to go two sets up.”

Murray’s Win

Murray, the runner-up in Melbourne the past two years, ended Kei Nishikori’s bid to become the first Japanese man to reach a Slam semifinal in 79 years with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win.

Murray, who’s seeking to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam title since 1936, extended his winning streak to 10 matches to advance to his fifth straight major semifinal.

“It’s good to see that I’ve been playing my best tennis at the Slams,” Murray, who hired eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl as his coach at the start of the year, said in a news conference. “That wasn’t always the case.”

Sharapova Seeks Revenge

Women’s No. 4 Sharapova beat Ekaterina Makarova to set up a rematch against Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who defeated the unseeded Sara Errani.

Sharapova beat fellow Russian Makarova 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinals in Melbourne for the first time since winning the title in 2008 for her third Grand Slam championship. She overpowered 56th-ranked Makarova from the baseline, hitting 26 winners and forcing her opponent into 25 errors.

Sharapova, 24, entered the tournament having not played an official tour match since October because of an ankle injury and has dropped just one set in advancing to the final four. She lost her past two matches to No. 2 Kvitova.

“She’s the one to beat right now,” Sharapova said of Kvitova. “I’m looking forward to the matchup. I don’t like losing so many times in a row.”

Sharapova, Kvitova and Azarenka could clinch the No. 1 ranking at the end of the tournament after Clijsters knocked out world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

Kvitova, 21, earlier beat Errani 6-4, 6-4 to become the first Czech woman to get to the Australian Open semifinals since Jana Novotna in 1991. The last left-hander to take the women’s title was Monica Seles in 1996.

“You have a little pressure on your back because you have a Grand Slam and everybody is expecting that you win all matches when you play,” Kvitova told reporters. “It’s not really easy. That’s why I’m really happy to be in the semifinal here.”

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