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Error-prone Venus out, but Serena survives

MELBOURNE, Australia — Venus Williams was one service game away from holding up her end of a projected sisters semifinal at the Australian Open, until she stumbled in a flurry of errors and lost to No. 16 Li Na.

Li reached the Grand Slam semifinals for the first time with the 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 quarterfinal win today, giving China two players in the last four of a tennis major for the first time.

"Best day of my whole life," Li said, grinning widely.

Zheng Jie had a semifinal against former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin.

"Good for both players. Also good for China's tennis," Li said. "Also good for the fans. Thank you."

Venus was favored to beat Li and set up a semifinal with defending champion and top seed Serena Williams, who survived a major scare in her quarterfinal against seventh seed Victoria Azarenka.

After losing the first set, Serena fell behind 0-4 in the second set.

"She was playing so well," Serena said of Azarenka. "I was down 0-4, and I just thought, 'Well, I have nothing to lose at this point.' … I just started finally making my shots."

Did she ever.

Serena stormed back to claim the second set then dominated the third for a 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win. She faces Li in a semifinal.

Every time Serena has reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, she has gone on to win the title.

Meanwhile, Venus couldn't overcome her mistakes.

The seven-time major winner was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second, but Li rallied, breaking Venus in that game and eventually dominating a tiebreaker.

Venus held to open the third set, which featured six straight service breaks until Li held to even it at 4. She broke Venus then had her own chance to serve for the match but didn't win a point in that game.

Venus returned the favor, losing four straight points on her serve to give Li a second chance to serve it out at 6-5.

Li needed three match points, converting it with consecutive forehand winners down the line.

The match featured a combined 110 unforced errors, 53 by Venus.

Rafael Nadal, who won last year's final in five sets over Roger Federer, withdrew because of an injured knee while trailing Andy Murray 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 3-0 in Tuesday's quarterfinals.

Andy Roddick needed a medical timeout after the first set of his match against No. 14 Marin Cilic. His sore right shoulder was making his fingers numb.

Roddick played on for another four sets. But, like Nadal, he was gone in the quarterfinals. Cilic advanced 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 and faces Murray.

Nadal tweaked his knee in the 11th game of a second set that had already been interrupted for nine minutes by fireworks related to Australia Day.

He didn't show any outward signs of being hurt until calling for a medical timeout while serving at 0-1 and 15-all in the third set. He took a three-minute break while the trainer worked on his right knee. He played only 13 more points before quitting.

Fast facts

Today on TV

3 p.m. (taped), ESPN2; 7, Tennis Channel; 9:30, ESPN2

Error-prone Venus out, but Serena survives 01/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1:25am]
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