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'Hantuyama', Williams Sisters to Vie for Trophy

Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama will take on Venus and Serena Williams for the Australian Open doubles title on Friday.

Published January 29, 2009 12:00

'Hantuyama', Williams Sisters to Vie for Trophy
Ai Sugiyama, Daniela Hantuchova

MELBOURNE, Australia - They might only be the No.9 and No.10 doubles seeds at the 2009 Australian Open, but a formidable foursome will contest the title at Melbourne Park on Friday, as Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama take on Venus and Serena Williams. Due to extreme temperatures their respective semifinal matches had to be moved 'indoors' on the Hisense Arena but, auguring well for the final, both teams still showed blistering form.

Ninth seeds Hantuchova and Sugiyama, quarterfinal conquerors of top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber, were first to book their place in the championship match with a comfortable 64 63 win over French-Italian duo Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo, 64 63. The foundation for the win was laid early in each set with the break of Dechy's serve, which 'Hantuyama' built upon with seemingly effortless verve, the tall Slovak providing countless savvy set-ups for the dynamic Japanese veteran to execute at the net.

Indeed, when Hantuchova struck a backhand pass down the line to give her team a 3-0 lead in the second, it seemed they would record an even easier win. But Dechy and Santangelo mustered forces to break Sugiyama twice in the remainder of the set; on the downside, they were on the wrong end of most of the quick-fire exchanges at the net; more damaging, Dechy relinquished another two service games, handing Hantuchova three match points on a double fault.

Supreme communication also kept the Williams sisters on their winning ways as they dispatched Casey Dellacqua and Francesca Schiavone, who were surprise finalists at Roland Garros last year but have played only sporadically since. Although Serena seemed remarkably fresh after her semifinal defeat of Elena Dementieva, the American No.10 seeds clearly didn't want to waste an ounce of energy on court, overpowering their opponents to keep the rallies short for a 60 62 win.

Playing together again after a couple of years' break, Hantuchova and Sugiyama will be gunning for their fourth title together, but first since Rome in 2006 - the year they achieved their best Grand Slam result as a unit, finishing runners-up to Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur at Roland Garros. Now 33, Sugiyama was actually ranked No.1 in doubles in 2000, the year she won the US Open with Julie Halard-Decugis (she also won the French Open and Wimbledon with Kim Clijsters in 2003). For her part, Hantuchova has been as high as No.5 in doubles and belongs to an elite group that owns a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. But although the 25-year-old also reached the final of the Australian Open with Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in 2002, she is yet to capture a women's doubles major.

Venus and Serena might not play doubles very often, but when they do it is almost invariably with spectacular results. Together they have collected seven majors, including the Australian Open in 2001 and 2003, and most recently Wimbledon; as well as two Olympic gold medals. To reach the final this week they've disposed of No.5 seeds Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs, and No.16 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.

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