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29 November 2023

Rule Britannia in Melbourne as Murray, Konta through

By Reuters

British hearts swelled with pride at Melbourne Park on Wednesday as Andy Murray battled into the Australian Open semi-finals after compatriot Johanna Konta swept into the last four of the women's tournament.

Murray won a typically attritional slog against Spaniard David Ferrer 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2 6-3, while Konta eased past Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai 6-4 6-1 to become the first British woman in more than 30 years to reach a grand slam semi-final.

The pair gave Britain two players in a grand slam semi-finals for the first time since 1977 but they will need to muster more bulldog spirit to reach the final.

Second seed Murray, who booked his sixth semi-final in Melbourne, will face Milos Raonic with the Canadian 13th seed in the form of his life.

Raonic's 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 win over Frenchman Gael Monfils made him Canada's first male semi-finalist at Melbourne Park.

Konta will face seventh seed Angelique Kerber, who stunned twice former champion Victoria Azarenka 6-3 7-5 in the opening match at Rod Laver Arena.

The fall-out from match-fixing allegations that rocked the tournament's opening day continued to rumble.

Officials launched an independent review into the Tennis Integrity Unit after accusations the watchdog had failed to adequately investigate suspicious matches in the past.

Former players angrily demanded proof of wrongdoing.

"There is no evidence. We are talking about algorithms and mathematics and some computer spits your name out like a serial killer and everyone is chasing you," fumed former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.

There was nothing suspect about the commitment of the combatants in the third singles match, however, as Ferrer and Murray engaged in a taxing three-hour and 20-minute dog-fight.

A classic baseline hustler, Ferrer stunned all with a rare dash to the net and a volleyed winner that conjured a set point during the second set tiebreak.

Murray surrendered the set with an unforced error but from there the match turned in the Scot's favour.

The weather turned thoroughly British as rain clouds gathered, and after a break in play, Murray ended the match under a closed roof.

"I like playing indoors," Murray, who has lost four finals in Melbourne, said courtside. "I grew up in Scotland and the weather is not as good as here so I grew up playing most of my tennis indoors."

Australians woke groggily a day after celebrating their national public holiday, and Sydney-born Konta reminded locals of what they had lost.

The 24-year-old closed out the first set after an epic game at 5-3 and ran away with the match to end Zhang's own fairytale run as a 133rd-ranked qualifier.

Konta is the first British woman to reach a grand slam semi-final since Jo Durie at the 1983 U.S. Open and just the third to reach the last four in Australia in the professional era after 1972 champion Virginia Wade and Sue Barker.

"I'm just so happy that I'm enjoying what I'm doing. That is me living my dream," said Konta.

With Murray's brother Jamie also reaching the last four of the men's doubles with Brazilian Bruno Soares, Britain could have three finalists at the same tournament.

Kerber poses a formidable roadblock to Konta, the German having floored former world number one Azarenka in their quarter-final.

The 28-year-old faced three set points when trailing 5-2 in the second set, and another two at 5-4, but stormed home to book her maiden semi-final at Melbourne Park.

Nearly 17 years have passed since Steffi Graf won Germany's last grand slam title, and Kerber said she had sought inspiration from the 46-year-old in Las Vegas last year.

"She taught me actually that I'm on a good way and try to believe in myself," said Kerber.

Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Raonic also enjoyed playing Monfils under a closed roof, having been raised on indoor tennis during the Toronto winters.

The clinical Canadian needed only two hours and 17 minutes   to crush the Frenchman's flair and set up the semi-final with Murray, an opponent with whom he shares a 3-3 head-to-head record.

"A great challenge ahead of me. A challenge I believe I have within myself to find a solution to," the 25-year-old said courtside.