PARIS // Francesca Schiavone became the first Italian woman to reach the semi-finals of the French Open since 1954 by beating Caroline Wozniacki, the No 3 seed, in straight sets yesterday. The 29-year-old Schiavone collapsed facedown on centre court and kissed the clay after sealing a 6-2, 6-3 win in her third major quarter-final appearance.
She had not reached the last eight at Roland Garros since 2001. This time she made the most of her chance and became the first Italian woman to make it into the semi-finals at any grand slam tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968. "It's an honour for me to play here," said Schiavone, who broke serve six times, won 13 of 16 points when she reached the net and enjoyed a 25-10 edge in winners. "I played really well. I'm enjoying it so much."
The 17th seed won with steady, sometimes loopy ground strokes, limiting errors while mixing the pace to keep Wozniacki off-balance. Rallies sometimes became moonball exchanges reminiscent of the wooden-racket era. Schiavone played serve and volley to win the penultimate point and then slammed an overhead winner to clinch victory. Her opponent tomorrow will be Elena Dementieva, the No 5 seed, who defeated Nadia Petrova 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 yesterday.
Dementieva pulled away from her opponent by hitting 11 winners in a final set in which Petrova won only 12 points. Petrova appeared hampered at times by a sore left thigh, which she had rewrapped midway through the first set. Dementieva also received treatment during the 17-minute break, when a trainer taped her right thigh. It is Dementieva's best showing at Roland Garros since 2004, when she was runner-up.
Rafael Nadal plans to knock Nicolas Almagro out of his comfort zone when they meet in the quarter-finals today. Nadal, the four-time champion, beat Thomaz Bellucci in round four to set up a rematch of his 2008 clash with Almagro, his fellow Spaniard. That day witnessed the most one-sided men's quarter-final of the Open era at Roland Garros, Nadal romping to a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory. But his compatriot has taken a set off the world No 2 in each of their last two meetings, including at the Madrid Masters earlier this month, while he was an impressive 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victor over Fernando Verdasco on Monday.
Nadal, who turns 24 tomorrow, said: "It's going to be very difficult, because the way he plays is really excellent. He's managed to maintain the same level here in the tournament. It's going to be complicated, he's going to be very aggressive. "I'll do my best so that he feels a bit uncomfortable." Almagro insists he is better prepared to tackle Nadal than two years ago, despite his opponent having won all of his 19 clay court matches this season.
"As compared to 2008, my physical shape has improved a lot," Almagro said. "From a mental standpoint, I am also much stronger now." The winner will play whoever comes out on top in the last-eight clash between Novak Djokovic and Jurgen Melzer. * AP