MELBOURNE (Reuters) - David Ferrer stared defeat full in the face three times but staged an epic comeback from two sets down to beat fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro and reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The fourth seed looked to be heading for the exit when, having been dominated by some brilliant play from the 10th seed for the first two sets, he faced Almagro serving for the match at 5-4 in the third.
It is not for nothing that Ferrer is known as one of the best fighters in tennis, however, and he hustled along the baseline to claw his way back into the contest and take the third set on Rod Laver Arena.
Twice more Almagro had chances to serve out for victory but he blew them both and Ferrer, who had won all 12 of their previous meetings, emerged a 4-6 4-6 7-5 7-6 6-2 winner after three hours and 44 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
“It was a miracle I won this match,” said Ferrer, who will face Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych in the last four.
“I tried to fight and do my best (but) next round... I need to play my best tennis, better than today. Now I will need to rest but I have a day and a half.”
Almagro contributed to his own downfall by stuttering when he had victory within his sights and his body let him down in the last two sets when he was hindered by a leg injury.
“I think I played my best tennis today but it wasn’t good enough to beat David,” he said.
“I don’t want think that it’s a mentality problem. If I had a mentality problem, I think I wouldn’t have won the first two sets.”
Ferrer, 30, has lost all four of his previous grand slam semi-finals, including defeats to world number one Djokovic at the U.S. Open in 2007 and last year.
He will undoubtedly be hoping the defending champion is still tired after his marathon fourth round victory over Stan Wawrinka when he takes on fifth seed Berdych in the final singles match on Rod Laver Arena.
China’s Li Na earlier showed she had the legs to go the distance when she reached her third semi-final in four years at the Australian Open with a 7-5 6-3 victory over fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
Radwanska had come into the contest on a run of 13 successive wins but looked underpowered as she was bludgeoned into submission by Li in their tight 102-minute contest.
There were 10 service breaks in the 21 games and Li grabbed six of them to set up a contest against second seed Maria Sharapova, who blew away her Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2 in the late afternoon match.
The former French Open champion clearly likes the bright blue courts at Melbourne Park, even if she will probably need to get her unforced error count under the 40 mark if she wants to reach a second final after 2011.
”I really don’t know what it is here,“ the sixth seed said. ”It seems whenever I come down here my results are always quite consistent, no big setbacks or anything.
“I‘m not sure whether it’s the winter training but it does seem like I‘m just better at this tournament.”
Radwanska, who had not lost a set on her way to the quarter-finals, said it was possible that she had paid the price for playing and winning warm-up events in Auckland and Sydney.
“I could feel I was playing already a lot of matches. But of course playing every second day helps a little bit that I could rest between the matches,” she said.
“But definitely I think I wasn’t fast enough today. Especially from the beginning of the match, I was really running a lot. It cost me a little too much power in the beginning of the match.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)