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Ups and Downs Down Under

Times Staff Writer

She looked nearly perplexed at the net. Victory, and its implications, a semifinal spot in the Australian Open, did not immediately hit Lindsay Davenport.

Nor did it settle in by the time she accepted the applause of the packed house at Rod Laver Arena and walked over for her on-court TV interview with Australian commentator John Alexander.

Two hours and 33 minutes under the searing sun, riding a roller-coaster of 14 aces and 11 double faults has a way of working on the body and mind. The top-seeded Davenport put herself back together after squandering a match point in the 10th game of the third set, and pushed through, defeating local hope No. 10 Alicia Molik, 6-4, 4-6, 9-7, today in the Australian Open women’s quarterfinals.

“It was a lot of ups and downs out there,” Davenport said. “I’m really not sure how I’m standing here. I feel very lucky to have pulled it out....I’m not sure how I was able to get it back. I really don’t know what to say.”

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Davenport, 28, is in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the first time since 2001. That year, she was upset in that round by a rising young French player, Amelie Mauresmo. Now, she will play a veteran from France, No. 19 Nathalie Dechy, who is on the best run of her career. The 25-year-old Dechy defeated No. 12 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, 5-7, 6-1, 7-5, also in 2:33.

Conditions were similar to the previous day, but the Rod Laver Arena roof remained open, just as it did in the other women’s quarterfinal matches. Dechy and Schnyder played at Margaret Court Arena and the heat rule was in effect for both matches today, and all the players took a 10-minute break before the third set.

Since winning the 2000 Australian Open, Davenport has had her share of being on the losing end of long three-setters here, going out against Mauresmo and then Justine Henin-Hardenne.

She did not relish the high-level intensity of the third set -- especially after the first missed match point.

“It was like, ‘Get me out of this.’ I did not enjoy it,” she said. “I think it’s tough to enjoy it when you feel like you should have already won or should have played a better game to have tried to at least win the match. At some point the heat was going to play a factor, but luckily, I didn’t feel like it affected me. But I felt like I was getting too old for it today.”

Molik suffered her first loss this season, and this was her first appearance in a Grand Slam event quarterfinal. It is a national holiday here today, Australia Day, and her backers were especially fervent, trying to will an Aussie female into the semis for the first time since Wendy Turnbull made it in 1984.

Davenport knew this would happen.

“Alicia is not only a great player, but a great, great person,” Davenport said about the crowd. “I understand, I have no hard feelings.”

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Actually, she had more problems with her serve than the crowd.

Davenport survived an unusually shaky serving performance. Serving at 4-5, she had back-to-back double faults on the last two points of the second set, losing her serve at love.

“I wish I could blame the heat,” Davenport said. “It was all me.”

She had to fight hard to pull it back on track after opening her first service game in the third with two more doubles.

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“I felt like that was the one key to my game. I feel like it revolves quite a bit around my serve, and I felt like today I struggled with my serve,” Davenport said. “I didn’t feel the same conviction and the same confidence when I would get up to the line. I don’t know quite why that is, but that was definitely hampering me a bit....It was definitely a key to my tough day today.”

The intensity only picked up throughout the final set. Davenport served for it at 5-4 and fought off three break points before reaching match point. Molik took advantage of a short second serve and hit a return winner. Molik finally got the break on her sixth break-point opportunity.

Said Molik: “The bottom line is that I probably had a chance out there to win. I’m in the top 10 now. I hope I can stay there. Today I see it as the one that got away.”

The atmosphere was so intense that, at 6-6, Molik thought they were playing a tiebreaker and flipped the ball away after serving an ace on the first point. She laughed when she remembered they don’t play a tiebreaker in the third set here.

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*

Women’s Semifinals

LINDSAY DAVENPORT (1) vs. NATHALIE DECHY (19)

SERENA WILLIAMS (7) vs. MARIA SHARAPOVA (4)

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* Davenport leads head-to-head, 5-0.

* Last meeting: Davenport def. Dechy in round of 16 at Sydney tournament earlier this year, 6-3, 6-4.

* Career titles: Davenport: 45; Dechy: 1.

* Sharapova leads head-to-head, 2-1.

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* Last meeting: Sharapova defeated Williams, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, in the final of the WTA Championships at Staples Center.

* Career titles: Williams 25; Sharapova 7.

HOW DAVENPORT GOT THERE

* First Round -- def. Conchita Martinez, 6-1, 6-0.

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* Second Round -- def. Michaela Pastikova, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

* Third Round -- def. Nicole Vaidisova, 6-2, 6-4.

* Fourth Round -- def. Karolina Sprem (13), 6-2, 6-2.

* Quarterfinals -- def. Alicia Molik (10), 6-4, 4-6, 9-7.

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HOW DECHY GOT THERE

* First Round -- def. Emmanuelle Gagliardi, 6-4, 6-3.

* Second Round -- def. Mashona Washington, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-2.

* Third Round -- def. Francesca Schiavone (14), 6-3, 6-3.

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* Fourth Round -- def. Anastasia Myskina (3), 6-4, 6-2.

* Quarterfinals -- def. Patty Schnyder (12), 5-7, 6-1, 7-5.

HOW WILLIAMS GOT THERE

* First Round -- def. Camille Pin, 6-1, 6-1.

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* Second Round -- def. Dally Randriantefy, 6-3, 6-0.

* Third Round -- def. Sania Mirza, 6-1, 6-4.

* Fourth Round -- def. Nadia Petrova (11), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

* Quarterfinals -- def. Amelie Mauresmo (2), 6-2, 6-2.

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HOW SHARAPOVA GOT THERE

* First Round -- def. Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-3, 6-1.

* Second Round -- def. Lindsay Lee-Waters, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.

* Third Round -- def. Li Na, 6-0, 6-2.

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* Fourth Round -- def. Silvia Farina Elia (15), 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

* Quarterfinals -- def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (5), 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.


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