Haas, Capriati go through to semi-finals in Melbourne

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The Independent Online

Tommy Haas relied on a booming first serve to overcome former world No.1 Marcelo Rios 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 today and set up an Australian Open semi-final against Marat Safin.

The seventh–seeded Haas, the highest–ranked player remaining in the men's draw, produced aces to save break points three times.

Rios, runner–up in Melbourne in 1998, wasted his opportunities, dropping his serve immediately after breaking Haas on three occasions in the 3 hr17min match.

Haas fired 22 aces, culminating with one in the tiebreaker that gave him three match points.

The German, a semi–finalist three years ago, said his service made the difference

"In the first two sets, he was up 15–40 a lot of times – he had a lot of break points – but couldn't convert them," Haas said. "That would have frustrated him."

Safin, seeded ninth, got a reprieve when his quarter–final lasted just seven games and 28 minutes before Wayne Ferreira quit with an abdominal strain.

Safin, who was leading 5–2, said Ferreira's withdrawal was like a gift after his tough four–set win over Pete Sampras in the previous round.

"I'm confident and I'm doing so well – I would love to win this tournament," Safin said. "Nothing is easy in this life. Sometimes you have to work a little bit more, like I did against Pete – it was a great match that I deserved to win. Today was a present."

Haas said he would have to serve and return well to counter the Russian's big serve in the semifinal.

"He's a very powerful, strong player, a young kid who is very hungry to play," Haas said. "He's been No. 1 in the world, so he's obviously very experienced already for his young age, and very tough to beat."

In women's quarter–finals, top–seeded Jennifer Capriati made it the final four at a Grand Slam event for the fifth consecutive time, producing her best groundstrokes to defeat Amelie Mauresmo 6–2, 6–2. She faces No. 4 Kim Clijsters, who won 6–2, 6–3 over fellow Belgian Justine Henin, in a rematch of last year's French Open final.

Capriati said that when her comeback from numerous teenage troubles seemed to stall, she contemplated pursuing another career. But not for long.

"That's why I kept playing tennis," she said. "What was I going to do? I just wasn't ready to give it up yet, and I was too young to start thinking about that."

Capriati made the semi–finals of the French Open at 14 in 1990. She won the Olympic gold medal in 1992, and major titles looked like a formality.

But it took until 2001 before she won her first, beating Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport en route to a final at Melbourne Park, where she beat three–time Australian champion Martina Hingis.

Capriati next won the French Open, then made the semis at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Now she's defending a major title for the first time. And she's confident she can do it.

"It's pretty tough to top last year," Capriati said, but "I think I'm playing my best tennis right now.

"It feels like I've graduated to the next level."

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