Pe'er battles to secure semifinal spot

The 20-year-old Israeli saved five match points on Thursday on her way to a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8) victory over Dinara Safina (15).

peer action 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
peer action 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
If the beginning of the season is anything to go by, 2008 is going to be a memorable year for Shahar Pe'er. The 20-year-old Israeli saved five match points on Thursday on her way to a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8) victory over Dinara Safina (15) in the quarterfinals of the $175,000 tournament at Gold Coast, Australia. Pe'er, who is ranked 17th in the world, will meet her doubles partner Victoria Azarenka (30) in the semifinals on Friday, after the Belarusian defeated Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova (51) 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. "The match was very difficult and long. We played at a very high level and it was extremely tough to win," Pe'er, who saved seven of Safina's 10 break points on Thursday, said of the two-and-a-half hour long encounter. Pe'er had lost to the Russian in all three of their previous meetings, including in the Gold Coast semifinals last year, but said on Thursday that revenge had nothing to do with her first win over Safina. "I wasn't thinking at all about revenge. A year has passed since that match and it's not as if I hate Dinara. It was important for me to win because she's an excellent player." Of her opponent in the semifinals, Pe'er said: "Azarenka is a good young player who is improving all the time. It will be a tough match." Pe'er and Azarenka also teamed up in the doubles tournament on Thursday. The Israeli/Belarusian duo lost 4-6, 6-3 12-10 in the quarterfinals to No. 2 seeds Zi Yan and Jie Zheng. Safina got off to a quick start on Thursday and led 4-1 after breaking Pe'er's serve in the fourth game of the match. The Israeli broke back and tied the score (4-4), but the Russian broke in the ninth game and soon wrapped up the first set. The second set was dominated by Pe'er, who held her serves with ease and broke Safina three times to tie up the match. After splitting the first eight games of the third set, Safina broke Pe'er and opened a 40-0 lead in the tenth game. The Israeli would, however, battle her way out of the almost impossible situation, saving the three match points to break her opponent and tie the set once more. Both players held serve in the next two games and Pe'er would go on to reach two match points in the tiebreak, leading 6-4. This time it was Safina's turn to come back from the dead, saving both match points before reaching two more chances of advancing to the last four. Pe'er, however, saved the match points and progressed to the semifinals after winning the last three points of the thrilling encounter. "Safina started the first set very well, but I still had a chance to win it," Pe'er said. "I was far more composed in the second set and she was nervous so that worked in my favor. The third set was very tight and even at 0-40 in the tenth game I played every point aggresively and also got a bit lucky." Safina was understandably disappointed after the loss. "It's disappointing because in the first set I was 4-1 up and somehow I let her come back into the match because I was dominating from the beginning," said Safina, who has won five WTA titles. "Then I started to slow down my game instead of worrying about my shots. Second set I wasn't there." Also Thursday, Amelie Mauresmo (18) - formerly the world's top-ranked player - was beaten by fourth-seeded Patty Schnyder (16), with the Swiss winning 6-4, 6-4 after leading 5-0 in the first set. "I made it pretty hard on myself losing those first five games," said Mauresmo, the 2006 Australian Open champion. "Too many mistakes, especially in that first set." Schnyder will meet China's Na Li (29) in Friday's semifinals. Li made it two-for-two in career matches against top-seeded Nicole Vaidisova (12), beating the Czech player 6-3, 6-3. In Adelaide, Dudi Sela and Italian Simone Bolelli lost 7-5, 6-3 to Martin Garcia and Marcelo Melo in the quarterfinals of the doubles tournament. Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, who won the title in Adelaide two years ago, will play South African Chris Haggard and German Florian Mayer in the last eight on Friday. AP contributed to this report.