Spain's world number three David Ferrer, however, had his bid for
a fifth Auckland Open title ended in the semi-finals by a 6-4 7-6
(7-4) defeat to unheralded Taiwanese Lu Yen-hsun.
At the Kooyong Classic, France's Gilles Simon turned his ankle badly
and was forced to retire while trailing compatriot Richard Gasquet
7-6 (7-3) 1-0.
While Simon, seeded 18th at the Australian Open, will have scans on
the injury, Gasquet meets world number seven Tomas Berdych in
Lanky Argentine Del Potro, who will be seeded fifth in Melbourne,
hit nine aces as he brushed aside the Russian fourth seed 6-4 6-2 in
just over an hour to reach his seventh final in the last 12 months.
Two of those finals were at Masters events in Shanghai and Indian
Wells, an indication for some that Del Potro might be returning to
the level of form that he reached to win the 2009 U.S. Open title
before a wrist injury nearly ended his career.
The 25-year-old will meet Australian defending champion Bernard
Tomic, who came from behind to beat Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy
Stakhovsky 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-3, in Saturday's final at Sydney's
Del Potro was seeded to meet world number one Rafa Nadal in the
quarter-finals of the year's first grand slam, while Tomic was
revealed as the Spanish 13-times grand slam champion's opponent in
the opening round in Friday's draw.
World number five Del Potro and Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt
are the only grand slam winners apart from Nadal, Roger Federer,
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray still active in men's tennis and the
Argentine believes he might soon be challenging the leading four
players again in major finals.
"I think I'm getting closer to the top four guys," he said on court.
"They are still playing such great tennis, but if I am fit, I
will try to be dangerous for them."
[to top of second column]
Another former U.S. Open champion, 2011 women's singles winner
Sam Stosur, had a less encouraging day, going down 6-3 6-2 in
the semi-finals of the Hobart International to Klara Zakopalova.
Stosur received a lesson in taking opportunities from
Zakopalova, who converted all five of her break points but saved
eight of the 10 the Australian created.
Even worse news for Stosur is that on Friday she was drawn to
play the 31-year-old Czech again in the opening round at
Zakopalova will face Garbine Muguruza Blanco in the final after
the Spaniard thrashed compatriot Estrella Cabeza Candela 6-0 6-1
in the second semi-final.
At the Auckland Open, world number 62 Lu stunned Ferrer in two
sets to bring the Spaniard's 14-match, three-year winning streak
at the tournament to an end.
Lu will face big-serving American John Isner, who came from
behind to beat Spain's Roberto Bautista 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4, in
his first ATP final on Saturday.
Women's world number nine Angelique Kerber later takes on
qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova in the Sydney final.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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