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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Updated: January 24, 6:18 PM ET
Tsonga advances to Australian Open final in stunning fashion

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Rafael Nadal found out what Australian Open fans already knew: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is for real.

Tsonga, who won over the crowds with a contagious smile and a go-for-broke style, claimed his biggest victim yet Thursday, dominating second-ranked Nadal in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory that carried Tsonga to his first Grand Slam final.

Feeding off the crowd's energy, even whipping it to a fever pitch like an orchestra conductor, the 38th-ranked Tsonga thrived under pressure, producing what he called his best performance ever.

"It's unbelievable, just amazing," the Frenchman said. "Nothing can stop me today. It's like a dream. I can't believe it's true. I was moving on the court like never I move. Everything was perfect."

No arguments there.

"I was playing fine," Nadal said. "He played unbelievable. Congratulate him."

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had never been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. But he hit 17 aces and dominated No. 2 Rafael Nadal to reach the Australian Open final on Thursday.

Tsonga, who beat three top 12 players earlier in the tournament, had never gone beyond the fourth round in his four previous Grand Slams. Now, he will play the winner of Friday's semifinal between top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

On the women's side, fourth-ranked Ana Ivanovic staged a dramatic comeback, losing the first eight games before ousting No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach her second Grand Slam final. She will meet No. 5 Maria Sharapova, who overwhelmed Serbia's Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1.

Instead of proving he can win a Grand Slam on a surface other than Roland Garros' clay, Nadal matched his worst loss in a major. The only time he won this few games was against Andy Roddick at the 2004 U.S. Open.

Nadal had just 12 unforced errors -- four combined in the first two sets. But he was flummoxed against Tsonga, who had 49 winners and didn't face any break points until the third set, when he saved three in one game in Nadal's only real challenge.

Nadal got a taste of what was ahead as Tsonga jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first set. After watching one untouchable service return zip past, Nadal simply stared in disbelief.

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In-progress scores and results from every match from both sides of the draw throughout the event. Complete scores

Tsonga smashed 17 aces against Nadal, one of the best serve returners.

With the crowd cheering and often on its feet, Tsonga picked up volleys off his feet with a deft touch. Changing speed and spin, he slugged it out with Nadal from the baseline the way few can. And anytime he got close to trouble, his big serve bailed him out.

"I can't believe some volleys," Nadal said. "I tried to play little bit slower. I tried to play a little bit faster. I tried to play more inside the court, behind the court. No chance. Not today."

Tsonga broke Nadal at love to finish off the first set, then reveled in the cheers, waving his arms to get the fans to yell even louder.

"They give me lot of energy," he said.

With Nadal serving at 3-4 in the second set, Tsonga set up break point with a lunging backhand volley that left him with his back facing the net, then raised a finger to indicate "One more." He smacked a blistering service return on the next point, then another stinging shot to set up an easy overhead.

Serving for the set, Tsonga blasted two aces, then another serve that clipped the net and landed on the line. Nadal challenged the call, clearly unwilling to give Tsonga another chance -- and for good reason. The call stood, and Tsonga rang up another ace.

Tsonga broke for the seventh time, then served for the match at 5-2, finishing it off with another ace. He looked stunned it was over, then jumped around the court in celebration.

Sharapova, too, was happy to get back to finals after losing to Serena Williams last year.

"You have your bad moments in your career and you have your good moments, and it's been a good ride so far," said the Russian, who hasn't dropped a set in six matches and earlier ended No. 1 Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak. "But it's not over yet."

Jankovic looked anxious and tight. It didn't help that Sharapova, seeking her third Grand Slam title, was whacking winners everywhere.

Jankovic double-faulted three times as Sharapova broke to start the second set, then got treatment for lower back pain.

"I wanted to withdraw, but it was a semifinal," Jankovic said.

The second match started as a near-replay. Ivanovic said her fans, including a strong presence from Melbourne's sizable Serbian community, helped her rally.

"If it wasn't for you guys, I would already be booking my flight back home," she told the crowd.

Ivanovic, who beat Venus Williams in the last round, won only nine points in the first set.

"I think she didn't miss a ball," Ivanovic said of Hantuchova. "I just tried to tell myself that she can't keep up that level throughout the whole match."