The No.1 makes light of injury concerns; Sharapova, Kvitova in women's last four

Top seed Novak Djokovic survived a brief injury scare before setting up an Australian Open semifinal with Andy Murray here on Wednesday.

The Serbian defending champion grimaced and clutched the back of his thigh during the second set against David Ferrer, and repeatedly looked tentative and uncomfortable on court. But he shrugged off the problem to win the set on a tiebreak, and he raced through the third to see off the tenacious Spaniard 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-1 in 2hr 44 min.

Djokovic, who withdrew from his 2009 Australian Open quarterfinal blaming cramps and heat, and also retired in the 2007 Wimbledon semifinals, explained that he was simply tired after the 58-minute first set.

“I had to hang in there, especially with a player like Ferrer,” he said. “I wasn't feeling very fresh after playing a long first set...Already after a couple of games I was feeling that it was going to be a long match.”

The victory means Djokovic, seeking his third straight major title, now goes into a rematch of last year's title match against Murray, whom he destroyed to take his second Australian Open crown.Djokovic put together one of the best seasons in history last year when he won 10 of 11 finals, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, and went unbeaten for 41 matches.

Not entirely untroubled

But the World No.1 faltered at the end of 2011 with injury, and he has shown occasional vulnerability in Melbourne. In the fourth round, he was briefly troubled by veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who claimed the third set.

Earlier, Murray moved smoothly into the last four with an entertaining win over Japan's Kei Nishikori, as Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova also reached the semifinals.

Despite sometimes being caught flat-footed by the flamboyant Nishikori, Murray ended the 22-year-old's historic run 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in just 2hr 12min.

Murray is now into his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal as he seeks the first major win by a British man in 76 years, and is on course for his third straight Melbourne title match. After heavy defeats at the hands of Roger Federer and Djokovic in the past two finals, Murray has progressed almost unnoticed, but Ivan Lendl's new charge is unbeaten this year and has dropped just one set in reaching the last four.

Importantly Murray, whose previous opponent retired hurt, has been barely detained on court so far, leaving him physically fresh for the semifinals.

In the women's draw, burgeoning superstar Kvitova and Russia's Sharapova set up a hotly anticipated rematch of last year's Wimbledon decider, with quarterfinal wins.

Kvitova, who enjoyed her breakthrough victory at Wimbledon last year, beat Italy's Sara Errani 6-4, 6-4, before Sharapova ended the fairytale run of 56th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3.

This is the first time Sharapova has reached the final four in Melbourne since 2008, when she claimed the most recent of her three major trophies.

“It's been a long road back to this big stage, but after hitting the winning shot you look back and think everything was worth it, no matter how tough it was,” she said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

I'd like to get the chance to play Novak Djokovic again. It would be a good marker to see how I've improved since last year — Andy Murray

Men: Singles: Quarterfinals: 4-Andy Murray bt 24-Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-1; 1-Novak Djokovic bt 5-David Ferrer 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-1.

Doubles: Quarterfinals: 2-Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor bt Santiago Gonzalez & Christopher Kas 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-2; Leander Paes & Radek Stepanek bt 10-Eric Butorac & Bruno Soares 6-4, 7-6(4).

Women: Singles: Quarterfinals: 2-Petra Kvitova bt Sara Errani 6-4, 6-4; 4-Maria Sharapova bt Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles: Semifinals: Svetlana Kuznetsova & Vera Zvonareva bt 6-Sania Mirza & Elena Vesnina 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4; 11-Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci bt 7-Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.

Mixed doubles: Quarterfinals: 6-Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi bt Liezel Huber & Colin Fleming 7-6(5), 6-2; Roberta Vinci & Daniele Bracciali bt 7-Andrea Hlavackova & Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi 6-1, 7-5.

Keywords: Australian Open

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