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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 13:04 GMT
Nadal and Tsonga to meet in semis
By Chris Bevan and Paresh Soni

Rafael Nadal
Nadal struggled initially but gradually overpowered his opponent
World number two Rafael Nadal overcame an early hiccup to thump Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 7-5 6-3 6-1 and reach his first Australian Open semi-final.

Nadal was briefly in trouble when Nieminen had two set points at 5-4 in the first set, but two big serves from the Spaniard got him out of trouble.

And despite the energetic Finn's best efforts, Nadal did not look back.

He next faces unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who overpowered Mikhail Youzhny 7-5 6-0 7-6 (8-6).

Tsonga is likely to pose a greater threat, although Nieminen battled gamely.

The Finnish 26th seed was far from overwhelmed in his third Grand Slam quarter-final, matching Nadal shot for shot in the opening set and causing his fellow left-hander problems with a raking double-handed backhand.

I felt I was controlling the game in the first set

Jarkko Nieminen

Nieminen came close to taking it when he got to 15-40 on the Nadal serve only for two booming deliveries to close that window as quickly as it opened.

And from that point on, the match was a walk in Melbourne Park for Nadal, who has not dropped a set during his progress Down Under this year.

Nieminen was broken in his next game and dropped serve three times in the next set, before Nadal closed out the match without any further further problems.

"He played great and has started the season very well," said Nadal, who had never previously gone beyond the quarter-finals in Australia.

"I am very happy to be in the semi-final. It's a very important tournament for me to start the season well.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga had too much power and consistency for Youzhny

"I will be trying my best to continue on in the tournament and I'm playing very well here."

Nieminen knew that his chance had come and gone in the first set, saying: "It was a pity because at that moment, I felt I was controlling the game, I think I was playing better than him in the first set.

"Against anyone it is hard to come back, but against him, you have to hit so many balls, so it would have been very important to have won the first set."

Tsonga continued the impressive progress which had seen him account for ninth seed Andy Murray and eighth seed Richard Gasquet.

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The 22-year-old and Russian Youzhny traded powerful groundstrokes in a high-quality opening set which went with serve until Tsonga produced a tremendous backhand to take it with the first break.

The Frenchman put pressure on Youzhny's serve early in the second and secured the break, to love, with a wonderful lob.

Youzhny immediately called for the trainer to have strapping on both ankles adjusted.

Although it did not appear to hamper him, he had no answer to a series of blistering winners from Tsonga as he raced through the set in quick time.

Fourteenth seed Youzhny could not match his opponent's consistency of power and subtlety, while his serve was under more pressure.

It's just amazing - I played just unbelievably

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

But he drew encouragement as Tsonga's exceptional level of play dipped in the third set and had a set-point at 6-5 in the tie-break.

Tsonga came up with the big shots when they counted, however, to win three successive points and register another tremendous victory.

"It's just amazing. I played just unbelievably," the rising French star said.

"I tried to be relaxed because it's a big event for me and it was difficult to stay calm, it worked and I'm very happy about that."

Of his clash with Nadal, he added: "It's going to be difficult. I'm going to have to run again and again, so I will do my best and I hope to play like this."



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