MELBOURNE, Australia &
Roger Federer has a lot of reasons to like James Blake.
The 12th-ranked American has a reputation as a nice guy away from the court and a good sportsman on it. More importantly for Federer, Blake always puts up a good fight against the Swiss star &
Top-ranked Federer ran his record against Blake to 8-0 and advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory today.
Federer is seeking to win here for the third straight year and pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles. He's also one step away from his 11th consecutive Grand Slam final after winning 19 matches in a row at Melbourne Park.
"It's great to be on top of the game for so long and be compared to the greats like Rod Laver and Sampras," Federer said.
He's not too worried about younger players stealing a little of the spotlight, either.
"I'm looking at history, looking at my own game," Federer said.
He next faces No. — Novak Djokovic, who beat No. 5 David Ferrer 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to join two Serbian women in the semifinals. Ana Ivanovic ousted Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-4 today, while Jelena Jankovic beat Serena Williams a day earlier.
The same three players reached the French Open semifinals last year on clay, proving they can win on different surfaces. Djokovic also made the Wimbledon semifinals and was runner-up to Federer at the U.S. Open.
U.S. flags were outnumbered by Swiss flags on a perfect night for tennis, and Federer had to be nearly perfect to beat Blake, who used his powerful forehand to keep the Swiss star from taking control of point.
"Playing against James, it's always great fun," said Federer, dressed in all-black again for a night match. "He's dangerous when he's even behind in the game. He made some incredible shots."
Blake's feelings about Federer were similar &
to a point.
"He seems like one of the guys in the locker room," Blake said. "Then you go out there, he beats you. You come back in the locker room and he's one of the guys."
This was high-quality tennis, and the fans in packed Rod Laver Arena were on the edge of their seats as neither player gave an inch.
With a tiebreaker looming in the first set, Federer was at his usual best under pressure, breaking Blake as he served at 5-6.
Blake saved two set points while serving at 4-5 in the second set and three more after falling behind 6-2 in the tiebreaker. But there are only so many escapes possible against Federer, who finally cashed his sixth set point.
Federer was cruising at 5-1 in the third set when Blake, refusing to yield, ran off three straight games. Federer finally held to finish it.
"I really went in thinking I had a good chance to win," Blake said. "I thought I played pretty well. But he came up with some of his best at the right times, and that was the difference."
Serbia has a population of 10 million &
half the size of Australia, which has zero home players left here. Despite a shortage of facilities, the country is churning out good players, just like the rest of Eastern Europe.
Russia's Maria Sharapova, ranked fifth, plays No. — Jankovic next, while No. 4 Ivanovic will play No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who beat Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday.
Ivanovic had never won a set off Williams in four meetings, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open. But she has improved her fitness dramatically, and it showed. Williams, her left thigh heavily taped, put in a lackluster performance.
"I'm just so, so happy I managed to step up and keep my composure," the 20-year-old Ivanovic said.
Neither player showed any respect for the other's serve. The first set had six consecutive breaks. Williams shook her head and sighed after her 21 unforced errors.
Williams turned it around to start the second set, rushing to a 3-0 lead. She was really pounding the ball, her grunts of exertion sounding nearly like screams.
Ivanovic refused to wilt. She broke back, then ran off the last three games, rallying from 15-40 as she served for the match.
"I have to give a lot of credit to her," Williams said. "She played really well, made a lot of good shots. She's definitely improved on everything in her game. That's really what it takes at this level. You want to keep improving and playing, because we're all improving."
The Williams sisters have 14 singles majors between them, but their one-time dominance on women's tennis is under serious challenge.
"There's been a lot of talk every single year," Venus Williams said. "I think what's important to me is what goes on in my head. I have full expectations and aspirations to continue to play high-quality tennis and to continue to be a champion.
"And I think Serena and I, we don't have anything to prove. We get out there and we play our best ... I don't get too caught up in what the next person thinks."
Djokovic pounded his big serve and mixed up his baseline game against Ferrer, keeping the Spaniard constantly on the run and moaning when he had to sprint in for a number of well-disguised drop shots.
Djokovic started to lose his composure toward the end, yelling at the crowd for shouting while he served.
"There's no excuse for that. I was very nervous and was behaving very badly, I'm very sorry about that," Djokovic said. "I have a lot of expectations and pressure, and sometimes it's difficult to stay calm on the court. But I'm working on that."
Federer downs James Blake to reach Australian Open semis
MELBOURNE, Australia &