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Team WTAworld, Administrator, aka Nibbler
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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (TICKER) -- There is just one seeded player left standing between Anna Kournikova and her elusive first WTA Tour tournament title.

Kournikova rallied past Switzerland's Emmanuelle Gagliardi on Thursday to advance to the semifinals of the $140,000 ASB Bank Classic hardcourt tennis event.

Sidelined by a foot injury for most of 2001 and knocked down to 71st in the WTA rankings, Kournikova got past the 69th-ranked Gagliardi, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. She overcame a 4-1 deficit in the second set.

``I was playing on will,'' Kournikova said. ``She was playing great and I was just fighting. That's my game -- I fight for every point. I was very tired at the end, but I'm all right now. I just shouldn't have made it so difficult for myself.

``I made too many unforced errors in the first set and I was fighting, trying to find my game. I haven't played many hard matches since February last year so I need this match.''

The Russian star has gained almost as much notoriety for her inability to win a tournament during her six-year career as for her stunning looks and lucrative endorsement deals. But she is two wins away from her first championship and faces Israel's Anna Smashnova in the semifinals.

``She's very tough and I'll have to play my best tennis to beat her,'' Kournikova said of Smashnova.

The 20-year-old Russian played just nine tournaments last year after suffering a left foot stress fracture in March. She underwent surgery in April, tried to come back in August, then missed the final two months of the season.

Smashnova swept past Spain's Annabel Medina Garrigues, 6-2, 6-2, as she seeks her third career title. She reached the semifinals just once last year, losing to Marie-Gaiane Mikaelian at Basel in July.

The other semifinal will pit No. 5 Tatiana Panova of Russia -- the only seed remaining -- and Croatia's Silvija Talaja.

Panova surprised third seed Anne Kremer of Luxembourg, the 2000 champion, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5. Like Kournikova, the 22-year-old Panova is seeking her first career win. She finished strongly last season with a 29-17 match record and six quarterfinal appearances over the final six months.

Talaja, ranked 109th in the world, evened her career record with Tatiana Poutchek at 1-1 with a 6-4, 7-5 triumph over the 22-year-old from Belarus.

Talaja, who ousted second seed Henrieta Nagyova of Slovakia in the second round, is seeking her third career title. She broke through for her first win at this event in 2000, knocking off Kournikova, Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario along the way.
 
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