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Old Feb 11th, 2005, 03:17 PM   #31
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Sania in semis and historyFirst Indian to enter WTA last four after typical gutsy 3-set win



HYDERABAD, FEBRUARY 10: Sania Mirza continued her winning streak on home turf but there was a special twist to today’s proceedings: by beating Israel’s Tzipora Oblizer 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), she became the first Indian to reach the semi-finals of a WTA event.


And she’s done so in the face of extreme pressure. The secret may lie in her oft-quoted mantra of the past few days: ‘‘The pressure is on them (opponents), not me’’.

And so, faced with a better player — as she admitted after the match — Sania, after initial hiccups, simply raised her game and psyched her opponent. That means three rounds, three different situations and three different kinds of wins, from easy to very tough.

The result also confirmed one trait suspected in her: the longer the match, the better she gets. She’s played 11 three-setters in her past 10 tournaments and won seven of those matches.

The first set went along expected lines. Sania’s erratic play and unforced errors gave her just one game — the ninth — when she wasn’t stretched to deuce. Oblizer was on top with her double-handed backhand and the occasional variety of top-spin and once she’d broken sania in the seventh game the set was over. The crowd was momentarily silenced, perhaps sensing it may not be her day.

The second began in the same vein. Sania was stretched to deuce and served two double faults before she managed to hold serve. The turning point was the third game. Having already slugged 16 returns in the fourth game — the longest of the match — it was a signal of her intent: she was ready to attack.

The sixth game decided the set. Serving at 40-30, Oblizer had a baseline call go against her, one that appeared distinctly in. That broke her concentration and Sania broke her serve, going on to win the set.

At one set all, it appeared neither was prepared to give in. Oblizer regained her composure and started closing out Sania at the corners near the net, while the home girl came up with her big forehands and several exquisite down-the-line backhands.

They traded breaks — Oblizer in the fifth and seventh, Sania in the second and tenth — in a rocking rollercoaster of a set that inevitably went into the tie-breaker. There, she trailed 3-1 but recovered on the strength of willpower and family support. ‘‘I kept looking at my father and friends’’, she said, ‘‘it was a team effort that saw me through.’’

Later, Sania Mirza and Shikha Uberoi ended their challenge in the doubles event bowing tamely to Zie Zheng and Zi Yan 7-5, 6-1.
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