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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Updated: January 29, 1:46 PM ET
Williams, Safina to meet in final

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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams earned a shot at her 10th Grand Slam title and Dinara Safina moved one win away from her first with semifinal victories at the Australian Open.

Williams, who won the Australian title in 2003, 2005 and 2007, played her best match of the tournament in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Olympic champion Elena Dementieva on Thursday.

Women's semifinals fast facts

• In their semifinal match, Serena Williams hit 10 aces without a double fault, while Elena Dementieva had only three aces and committed eight double faults.

• Williams has not won consecutive Grand Slam titles since she won four in a row during her "Serena Slam" in 2002-03.

• In her semifinal match against Vera Zvonareva, Dinara Safina had 42 unforced errors but also 28 winners.

• If Safina can beat Williams in the women's finale, she and brother Marat Safin will be the first brother-sister combination to win Grand Slam titles.

-- ESPN research

"I haven't moved like that for a while, so I was a little shocked," said Williams, still leaving room for improvement. "A perfect match for me? Oh, no, no, no. But it was definitely better."

She'll get her chance to extend the alternate-year sequence of titles when she meets third-seeded Safina, who beat fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal.

The winner of Saturday night's final will also replace Serbia's Jelena Jankovic at the top of the rankings.

"I think we will shake hands after the match and say 'You deserve to be No. 1,'" Safina said.

Safina's older brother, Marat Safin, won the title here in 2005, the day after Williams had won the women's final.

Safin also held the No. 1 ranking in November 2000, meaning Safina has a chance to write the Russian siblings into history.

"Since I was growing up it was my dream to be No. 1," she said. "I watched my brother winning this tournament. It's great that I can follow his steps."

Safina recovered a break early in the second set but again was in trouble with Zvonareva serving for the second set after breaking to pull ahead 6-5. Safina broke back at love to force a tiebreaker and, from 4-4, ran off the last three points.

Safina has yet to win a major, losing the 2008 French Open final to Ana Ivanovic in her best previous run. She lost to Williams in last year's U.S. Open semifinals.

The roof was closed at Rod Laver Arena for both women's semifinals, protecting the players and fans from outside temperatures topping 111 degrees.

Williams commended tournament organizers for deciding early to close the roof rather than wait, as they had Wednesday, until after the first set of her quarterfinal against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Elena Dementieva
Elena Dementieva had won her previous three matches against Serena Williams.

"It was really, really hot today," she said, "and, uhm, it was really hot."

News updates during the semifinals reported it was the hottest January day since 1939 in Melbourne. The temperature hit 112 at 4:43 p.m.

It was almost as hot Wednesday when Williams was only a game from a quarterfinal exit, having to break Kuznetsova when the Russian was serving for the match.

Twice before, Williams has had to save match points in her semifinals en route to the Australian title.

But the reigning U.S. Open champion found her rhythm quickly against Dementieva, who has not gone past the semifinals at a Grand Slam since 2004.

"I just really wasn't playing well at all. I just wasn't bringing it," she said of her first five matches here. "I thought that I was just going to have to do whatever it takes to win.

"This is definitely not over. I have to play a really tough opponent who wants to win ... it [could] be their first Grand Slam. That's super exciting."

Williams ended Dementieva's best bid in four years for a major.

The Russian was on a 15-match winning streak, including two titles and wins over Williams and Safina at the Sydney International.

"I had a good run ... [but] I feel like today I was not quick enough," Dementieva said. "I was not maybe aggressive enough against her. She dictated points.

"But I have no regrets. I had just a great time here."

Williams got the only break of the first set in the eighth game and was in control of the match.

But Dementieva held to open the second set in a game that went to deuce five times and lasted 14 minutes, then broke Williams en route to a 3-0 lead.

That sparked a four-game run for Williams until Dementieva broke to even the second set at 4-4.

Then nerves seemed to get the best of Dementieva. Having problems with her service toss, she double-faulted twice, the second setting up break point. Williams ripped a backhand winner down the line and pumped her fist.

She was helped by eight double faults from Dementieva.

Williams has had problems with her first serve throughout the tournament, but it came through when she needed it most. Serving for the match at 5-4, she started with an ace and hit another serve that Dementieva sent long.

At 30-15, Williams followed with another ace. Dementieva squealed and bent over in frustration. Another powerful serve on match point set up an easy overhead and it was over in 98 minutes.