World number one Caroline Wozniacki recovered from losing the first set to overcome Italian Francesca Schiavone 3-6 6-3 6-3 in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Two days after beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history, Schiavone showed remarkable powers of recovery but eventually ran out of steam against her younger opponent.
Wozniacki, who is now assured of remaining as number one when the new rankings are published next week, moves into a semifinal against China’s Li Na, who earlier beat German Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4.
“Francesca was playing well, it was tough for me to get the right rhythm, and I was making a few mistakes on the important points,” Wozniacki said of her comeback.
“I just thought: ‘Take one ball at time and don’t give up. If you get the chance, you need to take it now, otherwise it’s going to be too late’.”
Nobody expected the 30-year-old French Open champion to recuperate in time to challenge an opponent 10 years her junior and at the top of her game.
However, Schiavone hardly seemed bothered by fatigue in the first set as she covered the court with speed and agility.
Instead it was Wozniacki who seemed to struggle as the wily Schiavone moved her from side to side with precise groundstrokes and a deft touch around the net.
Wozniacki opened brightly and put pressure on Schiavone’s serve, but was unable to produce a break despite having six chances in the first set.
She seemed bewildered at times by Schiavone’s court coverage and determination, and when she stumbled serving at 4-5, the Italian pounced to break and take an intriguing opening set.
Wozniacki called for a trainer and went off court for treatment, coming back out with her left thigh heavily strapped, but she didn’t seem restricted as Schiavone continued to move her around the court.
Schiavone broke early and went to 3-1 but finally began to show signs of tiredness and Wozniacki broke back, then went on a six-game streak to level the match and take an early break in the third.
The Italian broke back but seemed to be feeling the effects of her match against Kuznetsova, with some poor shot selection and simple errors creeping into her game.
Wozniacki began to turn the screws and still Schiavone ran, but when the Dane pulled off a miraculous lob to secure break point to go to 5-2, the Schiavone’s gallant challenge seemed over.
However Schiavone, who saved three match points against Kuznetsova, saved another three with some brilliant strokeplay to break back and put the pressure right back on the top seed.
The Italian got to 30-0 only for Wozniacki to come back again, winning four points in a row -- including the last on a Hawkeye challenge, when Schiavone pushed one wide -- to take a superb semi-final.
“She’s a very difficult player to play against because she mixes it up quite a bit and she knows how to slice,” Wozniacki said.
“She plays with a big topspin. She goes to the net quite a bit as well so it’s very difficult, but I managed to keep my head cool, and it worked out.”
A philosophical Schiavone had no regrets.
“I had my chance,” she said.
“Maybe in the third set I felt a little bit something physically, but it’s not an excuse. I think I gave the best that I could.”
Li, her country’s first top-10 player, was broken in the first game of each set but attacked the German’s serve furiously to close out the match in 80 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
Petkovic appeared nervous on her Grand Slam quarter-final debut and sprayed two forehands to concede the first set.
Serving to stay in the match in the second, Petkovic slapped a forehand long to hand her Chinese opponent victory, Li celebrating the win by yelping “Yeah!” and grinning at her husband and coach Jiang Shan in the stands.
Li will play either top seed Caroline Wozniacki or Francesca Schiavone for a place in the final.