Williams back in groove

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The Independent Online

Venus Williams offered no mercy to Ai Sugiyama as she cruised into the last-four of the Australian Women's Hardcourt Championships here yesterday. The American won 6-2, 6-4 to improve her career record to 7-0 against the Japanese player and move closer to a meeting with Justine Henin, the Belgian she beat in last year's Wimbledon final.

It was Williams' first competitive match since the US Open final in September and yesterday's win took her to 18 successive victories. Sugiyama, the eighth seed, won this event in 1998 and had reached the semi-finals in each of her previous three visits to the Australian Open warm-up tournament.

Williams said she had room for improvement, pointing to her nine double faults. "I don't have to hit the double faults I was hitting today," she said. "By the time I get to Melbourne [for the Australian Open] I won't be. When I'm out there making mistakes, I'm not extremely upset about it. I'm hopefully streamlining for the next match."

Henin, the second seed, swept past the German qualifier Anca Barna 6-2, 6-1 to reach the last-four.

Anna Kournikova fought back to beat Switzerland's Emmanuelle Gagliardi 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the quarter-finals of the Auckland Classic. Gagliardi, the world No 69, came close to clinching the match in the second set with her aggressive approach, but the Russian fought through by taking the last two sets.