friday afternoon

Murray Survives Scare To Advance In Cincinnati; Federer, Nadal Advance

Defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland rallied from a set and break down in the second set to edge past lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and 11 minutes on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

The 22-year-old Scot, who is the new No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after winning the title last week in Montreal, struggled to find his form after breaking to take a 3-2 lead. Following the service break, the 27-year-old Frenchman immediately broke Murray’s serve to level the match at 3-3 before winning three of the next four games to take the opening set, 6-4.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Benneteau, who got in the main draw when Juan Martin del Potro withdrew after the draw was made.

Benneteau, who is currently ranked No. 55, secured an early break in the second set to go ahead 2-0 and looked to have a big edge on Murray, who looked out of sorts on all his shots.

The turning point occurred in the next game when Murray won a thrilling 53-shot rally and quickly broke back to get back on serve. The Scot, who has now won a record 53 matches this season, insisted the 53-shot rally changed the rest of the match.
“Oh, it made a big different,” said Murray, who has won five titles this year in Doha, Rotterdam, Miami, Queen’s Club and Montreal. “I think he was very tired after that rally. I managed to stay strong after that.”
The momentum shifted immediately and it was all Murray from that point on, dropping just two more games en route to victory.
“You know, he’s been around a long time and he’s very experienced and obviously made it very difficult today,” said Murray, who has reached five of the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals dating back to his victory in Cincinnati last August.

Murray, who earned his 72nd career win in a Masters 1000 event, smashed seven aces, won 70 percent of first serve points and broke Benneteau’s serve on six of 13 opportunities. Benneteau hit four aces, three double faults, won 59 percent of first serve points and was able to break Murray’s serve three times.

Murray’s semifinal opponent on Saturday afternoon will be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who eased past former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, in 70 minutes.

Federer, who earned his 200th career win at a Masters 1000 event, was in complete control from start to finish, breaking serve once in each set to win convincingly. Federer’s serve was superb, winning 24 of 27 first serve points, smashing 11 aces, while not facing a break point the entire match.

The 15-time Grand Slam singles champion insisted holding serve against Hewitt is an important thing to accomplish during a match with the fiery Aussie.

“I think that definitely helps against Lleyton, who once he gets his teeth into your serve it can get quite tricky,” said Federer, who improved to 9-1 in quarterfinal matches this season.

Hewitt, who reached the finals in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2004, only managed to hit two aces and win 69 percent of his first serve points.

Federer improved to 15-7 against Hewitt, winning the last 13 meetings.

“He’s beaten me so many times in the past that I didn’t expect myself to all of a sudden go on such a great run against him,” said Federer, whose loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Montreal was his first loss since losing at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in May.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain continued his impressive return from a knee tendinitis injury, dispatching Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 41 minutes.

Nadal, who has won six Grand Slam singles titles including four French Open titles, was impressive on serve throughout, hitting two aces and winning 35 of 41 first serve points. The 23-year-old Spaniard was also able to break serve twice on six opportunities.

The former world No. 1 will face No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic in the night match on Saturday. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match by defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to his second straight semifinal in Cincinnati.

Safina ends Clijsters’ comeback run in Cincinnati; Dementieva rolls Wozniacki

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters’ outstanding comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour came to an abrupt end, as current world No. 1 Dinara Safina of Russia edged past the gutsy 26-year-old Belgian, 6-2, 7-5, on Friday afternoon at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, her fourth consecutive quick start in as many matches backed by steady ground strokes and crisp angles, Clijsters’ serve hit the wall, as Safina broke serve three straight times and took the opening set, 6-2, in 26 minutes. The former US Open champion then jumped out to another 2-0 lead to start the second set before taking a 4-2 lead. But her serve continued to let her down throughout the match, especially during the critical moments of the second set and eventually costing her the match.

“She really made it tough for me out there,” said Clijsters, the winner of 34 career singles titles. “I tried to mix it up a little bit.”

The Russian won 66 percent of first serve points and only hit three double faults compared to Clijsters, who won just 48 percent of her first serve points and tossed in six double faults. Safina, who reached the finals at the Australian and French Open earlier this year, broke serve seven times throughout the match.

Safina attempted to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, but Clijsters fired back with a break of serve in front of a pro-Clijsters crowd. Clijsters lost focus in her next service game, dropping serve at ease with several unforced errors. Safina then consolidated the break to advance to the semifinals in her first visit to Cincinnati.

Despite the loss, Clijsters was very pleased with her performance in her comeback tournament.

“I’m definitely pleased with the level that I’ve had and that I got to in these four matches,” said Clijsters. Obviously today, maybe would have liked to try a few different things. Overall, I’m very happy and satisfied with the way that everything has been.

Clijsters will next head to Toronto, where she has accepted a wild card into next week’s main draw at the Rogers Cup. She will then play at the US Open in New York before figuring out what other tournaments she wants to play this season, all based on her fitness and family obligations.

Safina is now assured to stay put at the top ranking as long as Serena Williams does not accept a wild card in two weeks to play in the Pilot Pen Tennis in New Haven, Connecticut.

Safina will next face Italian Flavia Pennetta for a place in the championship match. Pennetta beat Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, 6-3, 6-3, to win a career-best 15th consecutive match. No matter how she fares against the top-ranked player on Saturday, Pennetta is guaranteed to crack the Top 10 on Monday, becoming the first Italian to accomplish that feat.

In other matches, No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva of Russia continued her winning ways as she cruised to a convincing, 6-2, 6-1, victory over No. 8 seed Carolina Wozniacki of Denmark to advance to the semifinals.

It was a serving struggle from the start with nobody holding serve until the 27-year-old Russian finally held serve in the sixth game of the opening set. The gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics followed up the service hold by immediately breaking Wozniacki’s serve before holding at ease to take the opening set, 6-2.

“There were so many breaks,” said Dementieva, who has won 13 career singles titles. “As soon as I was able to hold my serve, I started to play more confident.”

Dementieva dropped the opening game of the second set, before winning six straight games to win the match in one hour and 13 minutes. Dementieva improves to 3-2 lifetime against the 19-year-old Dane. Wozniacki, who made her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour main draw debut in Cincinnati in 2005, had won the previous two meetings played this season.

Dementieva, who reached a career best ranking of No. 3 in April, broke serve on seven occasions, four in the opening set and three in the final set. Wozniacki was only able to break Dementieva’s serve twice, both in the early stages of the opening set.

“Usually I don’t get broken seven times in a match,” said Wozniacki, who resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco during the off-season. “That was something new for me. I was struggling a little bit with that.”

Dementieva will next face No. 5 Jelena Jankovic, who easily dispatched Austrian Sybille Bammer, 6-0, 6-3, in the late match.