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Old Jan 30th, 2006, 03:13 PM   #81
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Kuznetsova begins climb back

11jan06


FORGOTTEN champion Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her down under demolition to book herself a Sydney International semi-final berth today.

But in a dramatic day at Olympic Park, Kuznetsova was the only one to do so via the scoreboard with the other three women's quarter finals decided by injury or illness.



Tournament top seed Kim Clijsters was the biggest name to pull out, suffering acute muscle pain in her hip during warm up ahead of a quarter final clash with seventh seed Francesca Schiavone tonight leaving her Australian Open dreams in tatters.

Fifth seed Justine Henin-Hardenne joined Kuznetsova in the last four of the Australian Open lead-up event without even picking up a racquet after Russian fourth seed Nadia Petrova withdrew from the tournament with a groin strain.

And eighth-seeded Czech Nicole Vaidisova then progressed to the semi-finals when Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova retired from their match with gastrointestinal illness while trailing 6-3 3-1.

Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open champion, landed in Australia under a drugs controversy last year and, after a tumultuous 2005, has started afresh in 2006 with an undefeated run through the Hopman Cup in Perth last week and now ominous form in Sydney.

The sixth seed today faced challenging Serbian Ana Ivanovic, who yesterday knocked out world No.3 Amelie Mauresmo, but blasted the teenager off the court with a 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 win.

Kuznetsova's form tailed off in 2005, culminating in becoming the US Open's first defending champion to lose in the first round. The disappointment prompted the former world No.4 to take an early off-season break to overcome a back strain.

Sydney is her first WTA tournament since the break and the world No.14 is hungry for success.

"I still have lots of work to do. I'm not even close to my top shape," Kuznetsova warned after the 84-minute match.

"So much time away from the tournaments, you really understand how bad you want to play and how much you can enjoy being out there. This is like your life. This is what I live for, for the moment. I don't have nothing else."

Kuznetsova's next assignment, against Belgium's former world No.1 Henin-Hardenne, will give a true indication of where she stands in the world pecking order.

It is another Belgian, world No.2 Kim Clijsters, that the Russian tips as the one to beat for Australian Open glory.

"It's a stronger field than last year because everybody's back and everybody playing well," Kuznetsova said.

"The strongest one is going to win. I think for the moment Kim (Clijsters) is in the best shape because she's playing pretty well. It's tennis, you never know what's going to happen. "My game suits the Australian Open because I won the US Open and it's similar. And I think I am fit enough to stay in this weather."

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