Venus out as China boasts two women in last four

You learn never to write off Serena Williams, but the American produced a comeback here today remarkable even by her own standards. Victoria Azarenka was leading their Australian Open quarter-final by a set and 4-0 before Williams finally got her game together to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. The world No 1 had been on course for a semi-final showdown with her sister, Venus, but instead she will play Li Na, who joins her fellow Chinese, Zheng Jie, in the last four. Li beat Venus 2-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Serena, who is aiming to win the title here for a fifth time, had not dropped a set or been broken in 31 service games in her four previous matches before today. Azarenka, however, broke serve in the very first game and went on to make five breaks before Williams finally pulled herself together.

Azarenka, 20, is one of the emerging talents in the women’s game. The world No 7 had Williams in trouble in the fourth round here a year ago but had to retire through illness and heat exhaustion midway through the second set. The Belorussian won 24 of her first 26 matches in a superb run at the start of last year, which led to her breaking into the world’s top 10 for the first time.

For a set and a half Williams appeared to have no answer to Azarenka’s bold ground strokes, but rediscovered her poise when two games away from defeat. The American won a hard-fought game at 0-4 and then won five games in a row before Azarenka halted the slide. The set went into a tie-break, which Williams won 7-4.

The world No 1, who again played with plenty of strapping on her left knee and right thigh, broke Azarenka to love in the third game of the decider and promptly ran away with the set.

"She was playing so well,” Williams said afterwards. “I was down 0-4 and I thought I had nothing to lose and I just started finally making my shots. I didn't serve well in the first set and a half and when my serve is off it makes my whole game off."

Williams added: "I'm surprised. I didn't expect to win when I was down in the second set. I thought if I lost the singles and the doubles, I could catch a flight on Friday. It's not what a champion is supposed to think, but I did."

Roles were reversed for sister Venus, who won the first set with something to spare and served for the match against Li at 5-4 in the second set, only to let victory slip from her grasp. The match was littered with breaks of serve, but Williams appeared to have done enough until four unforced errors enabled Li to level at 5-5 in the second set. It went into a tie-break, which the No 16 seed won 7-4 to take the match into a decider.

The contest took another turn when Venus went into a 2-0 lead in the third set, but Li broke back during a sequence of six successive breaks of serve. Li failed to serve out at 5-4, but at 5-5 Williams was broken once again. This time there was no way back as Li secured victory with a big forehand winner on her third match point. Li described it as “the best day of my whole life”.

Williams, who has not progressed past the last eight here since 2003, said she found her defeat hard to explain. "I think I just started rushing my shots a little too much instead of just taking my time and really just hitting a clean ball," she said. "Sometimes I was able to back off. But, you know, sometimes it's so easy to get so eager.

"In tennis you have to close it out. It's not like there's a clock ticking and then suddenly it's over. You just have to close it out. I didn't do that today."

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s semi-final against Li, Serena said: "I have played her a few times and she has beaten me once. I know her game well and the way I feel, I have nothing to lose."

Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral