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Hantuchova, Sugiyama Win Thriller Over Black, Huber

Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama will play Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo for a spot in the Australian Open final.

Published January 28, 2009 12:00

Hantuchova, Sugiyama Win Thriller Over Black, Huber
Ai Sugiyama, Daniela Hantuchova

MELBOURNE, Australia - Three seeded teams are through to the doubles semifinals of the 2009 Australian Open, but none of them began the tournament among the top eight favorites, at least not on paper. So Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama are to play Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo for a place in the final, while Venus and Serena Williams take on Casey Dellacqua and Francesca Schiavone.

Each of the quarters went to three sets, with only the Williams sisters winning the opener; the other three teams had to come from behind to win.

Most striking was the three-hour defeat of top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber by the reunited No.9 seeds Hantuchova and Sugiyama, 67(0) 63 76(10). Black and Huber - who also lost early in Brisbane and Sydney - won the first set tie-break without sacrificing a point, and although the underdogs regrouped to level in the second set, the co-world No.1s seemed ready to take the contest as they surged to 5-2 lead in the decider.

But the popular 'Hantuyama' unit clicked into gear, as the tall Slovak set up volleying opportunities for the Japanese veteran. With Black becoming vulnerable on serve and at the net, the tenth seeds forced a tie-break. However, Black and Huber stole back the momentum to hold four match points at 6-2; they relinquished them all, plus another three, as Hantuchova and Sugiyama went on to win the final tie-break 12-10.

Likewise, Dechy and Santangelo had to fight till the bitter end against No.11 seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and María José Martínez Sánchez, 36 76(7) 76(6). But the triumph of No.12 seeds Dellacqua and Schiavone over unseeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder was possibly the most bizarre win of the day, for last year's French Open runners-up lost the first set to love and were down a break in the second. Schiavone, in particular, struggled to keep the ball in play but somehow the Australia-Italian duo clawed their way back to defeat their German-speaking rivals, 06 75 61.

Although they dropped the middle set to No.16 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, the Williamses were ultimately too strong for the Sydney titlists, moving to a 62 46 63 win.

They may carry lowly seedings at the first Grand Slam of the year, but all four semifinalists boast strong doubles pedigrees. Sugiyama owns 37 Tour doubles titles, three of them with Hantuchova, who has eight; their best Grand Slam result together was finishing runner-up at Roland Garros in 2006.

Dechy is a two-time US Open doubles champion, winning in 2006 with Vera Zvonareva and in 2007 with Dinara Safina; she and Santangelo won the ASB Classic at Auckland earlier this month, and were also victorious at Rome in 2007.

Although Dellacqua is yet to win a doubles title, Schiavone has six, and the pair have been solid performers since their surprise run to the final at Roland Garros, where they were beaten by Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual.

But none can match Venus and Serena, who have done the Wimbledon/Olympics double twice in their careers, in 2000 and 2008, and have five other Grand Slam titles to their joint credit - including two Australian Opens, in 2001 and 2003.

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