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Tsonga advances to Australian Open final in stunning fashion

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."

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.

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."