• Justine Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo advance to women’s final

Melbourne, January 26:

Young Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis capped an extraordinary Australian Open by reaching his first Grand Slam final with an stirring five-set fightback victory over Argentina’s David Nalbandian.

The 54th-rated Baghdatis added No 4 Nalbandian to his list of three top-10 victims with a 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win in 3hr 27min to reach Sunday’s final. Baghdatis will now face either world number one Roger Federer or German 21st seed Nicolas Kiefer in the final. The 20-year-old, a junior champion here three years ago, became only the fourth unseeded player in 25 years to enter the Australian Open final.

His composure was fully tested when he was overruled by chair umpire Andreas Egli on match point forcing him to win on his second match point with an ace.

Baghdatis underlined his rich promise with his second win over Nalbandian after beating him in the semi-finals at Basle last year. His victory improved his record against top-10 players to 5-3, with all three losses coming against Federer. The Cypriot has been a breath of fresh air in the men’s tournament with his victories over seeds Radek Stepanek (17), Andy Roddick (2) and Ivan Ljubicic (7) and his current 54 ranking will jump inside the top 30 after the tournament.

His infectious grin and passion on court has won fans throughout Australia and made him a hero in Cyprus, which is calling him its greatest sportsman ever.

Nalbandian, who looked in command in the opening sets, appeared to lose power on his service after treating abdominal muscles in the second set. Baghdatis, who turned on his left ankle at 2-5 in the second set, found new zest and fought his way back into the match with Nalbandian looking his grip.

In women’s section, Belgium’s eighth seed Justine Henin-Hardenne came through a tough three-set fight against fourth seed Maria Sharapova. Henin-Hardenne won 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 with a backhand down the line to end the Russian’s drive to reach her first ever Australian Open final.

Henin-Hardenne, who won here on her last appearance in 2004 against Kim Clijsters, will play third seed Amelie Mauresmo. One of the most tenacious fighters in women’s tennis, Henin-Hardenne looked out of it after losing the first set but steadied herself to take the fight to Sharapova.

Henin-Hardenne will now have the chance to claim her fifth Grand Slam title and a second trophy to add to the one she won at Melbourne Park in 2004. The 23-year-old, the bookies’ favourite to win the tournament, has lost only one of her five Grand Slam final appearances, at Wimbledon in 2001.

Relieved French third seed Mauresmo strode into the final after newly-crowned world number one Kim Clijsters retired hurt in the third set. Clijsters was forced to concede after twisting her right ankle with the scores at 5-7, 6-2, 3-2 in Mauresmo’s favour. Clijsters, who only regained the top spot on Wednesday after defeating Martina Hingis, tried unsuccessfully to continue with her ankle heavily strapped.

The 26-year-old Mauresmo, a losing finalist in here in 1999, has been in ominous form since winning the season-ending WTA Tour Championship late last year and had clawed back from a set down to gain momentum before the semi was halted.

Australian Open Results

Women’s semi-finals: Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4; Amelie Mauresmo beat Kim Clijsters 5-7, 6-2, 3-2 (retired)

Men’s semi-final: Marcos Baghdatis beat David Nalbandian 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

Men’s doubles semi-finals: Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan beat Paul Hanley/Kevin Ullyett 6-3, 6-4; Martin Damm/Leander Paes beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg/Marcin Matkowski 6-2, 6-4

Mixed doubles quarter-finals: Paul Hanley/Samantha Stosur beat Mike Bryan/Corina Morariu 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (10/8); Leander Paes/Nathalie Dechy beat Frantisek Cermak/Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 7-6 (7/4); Mahesh Bhupathi/Martina Hingis beat Todd Perry/Rennae Stubbs 7-5, 7-6 (7/5)