Australian Open: Ram, Dechy reach mixed doubles finals

Serena Williams earns shot at her 10th Grand Slam title and Dinara Safina moved one win away from her first with semifinal victories at the Open.

ram dechy 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ram dechy 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's Andy Ram and his partner Nathalie Dechy from France reached the finals of the Australian Open mixed doubles tournament in Melbourne on Thursday after beating Spaniards Anabel Medina Garrigues and Tommy Robredo 7:6, 6:4. The first set ended with a tight 9-7 win in the tiebreaker while one break in the second set was all Ram and Dechy needed to defeat the seventh-seeded pair. They have already earned over 67,000 Australian dollars in the tournament so far. A win in the finals would double their prize money. Ram and Dechy, who already won the Roland Garros in 2007, will face the winner of the match between the Czech duo of Iveta Benesova and Lukas Dlouhy against Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi from India. The achievement marks the fourth time Ram reaches a Grand Slam mixed doubles final. Besides the triumph at Roland Garros with Dechy, Ram won the 2006 Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Russian Vera Zvonareva and was also a finalist at the All England Club in 2003, losing in the title game with partner Anastasia Rodionova. Meanwhile, Serena Williams earned a shot at her 10th Grand Slam title and Dinara Safina moved one win away from her first with semifinal victories at the Open. Williams, who won the Australian title in 2003, 2005 and 2007, played her best match of the tournament in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Olympic champion Elena Dementieva on Thursday. "I haven't moved like that for a while, so I was a little shocked," said Williams, still leaving room for improvement. "A perfect match for me? Oh, no, no, no. But it was definitely better." She'll get her chance to extend the alternate-year sequence of titles when she meets third-seeded Safina, who beat fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal. The winner of Saturday night's final will also replace Serbia's Jelena Jankovic at the top of the rankings. "I think we will shake hands after the match and say `You deserve to be No. 1,"' Safina said. Safina's older brother, Marat Safin, won the title here in 2005, the day after Williams had won the women's final. Safin also held the No. 1 ranking in November 2000, meaning Safina has the chance to write the Russian siblings into history. "Since I was growing up it was my dream to be No. 1," she said. "I watched my brother winning this tournament. It's great that I can follow his steps." Safina recovered a break early in the second set but again was in trouble with Zvonareva serving for the second set after breaking to pull ahead 6-5. But Safina broke back at love to force a tiebreaker and, from 4-4, ran off the last three points. Safina is yet to win a major, losing the 2008 French Open final to Ana Ivanovic in her best previous run. She lost to Williams in last year's US Open semifinals. The roof was closed at Rod Laver Arena for both women's semifinals, protecting the players and fans from outside temperatures topping 44C (111F) degrees. Williams commended tournament organizers for deciding early to close the roof rather than wait, as they had Wednesday, until after the first set of her quarterfinal against Svetlana Kuznetsova. "It was really, really hot today," she said, "and, uhm, it was really hot." News updates during the semifinals reported it was the hottest January day since 1939 in Melbourne. The temperature hit 44.3C (112F) at 4:43 p.m. It was almost as hot Wednesday when Williams was only a game from a quarterfinal exit, having to break Kuznetsova when the Russian was serving for the match. Twice before, Williams has had to save match points in her semifinals en route to the Australian title. But the reigning US Open champion found her rhythm quickly against Dementieva, who has not gone past the semifinals at a Grand Slam since 2004. "I just really wasn't playing well at all. I just wasn't bringing it," she said of her first five matches here. "I thought that I was just going to have to do whatever it takes to win. "This is definitely not over. I have to play a really tough opponent who wants to win ... it (could) be their first Grand Slam. That's super exciting." Williams ended Dementieva's best bid in four years for a major. The Russian was on a 15-match winning streak, including two titles and wins over Williams and Safina at the Sydney International. "I had a good run ... (but) I feel like today I was not quick enough," Dementieva said. "I was not maybe aggressive enough against her. She dictated points. "But I have no regrets. I had just a great time here." Williams got the only break of the first set in the eighth game and was in control of the match. But Dementieva held to start the second set in a game that went to deuce five times and lasted 14 minutes, then broke Williams en route to a 3-0 lead. That sparked a four-game run for Williams until Dementieva broke to even the second set at 4-4. Then nerves seemed to get the best of Dementieva. Having problems with her service toss, she double-faulted twice, the second setting up break point. Williams ripped a backhand winner down the line and pumped her fist. She was helped by eight double-faults from Dementieva. Williams has had problems with her first serve throughout the tournament, but it came through when she needed it most. Serving for the match at 5-4, she started with an ace and hit another serve that Dementieva sent long. At 30-15, Williams followed with another ace. Dementieva squealed and bent over in frustration. Another powerful serve on match point set up an easy overhead and it was over in 98 minutes. Roger Federer, seeking a record-equaling 14th Grand Slam singles title to match Pete Sampras' career tally, was playing American Andy Roddick in the night semifinal. No. 2 Federer is 15-2 against the seventh-seeded Roddick, who beat defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the quarterfinals. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal will play Fernando Verdasco in an all-Spanish semifinal on Friday. Allon Sinai contributed to this report