Safina to face Kuznetsova in final

Rome: World No 1 Dinara Safina booked a date with Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Rome Masters final after an epic three-set victory over Venus Williams on Friday.

Safina came back from a set down to beat the five-time Wimbledon champion 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 6-4 in a match that lasted more than three hours. Her Russian compatriot Kuznetsova had a far easier semi-final as she stormed past Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-4. It is the second week running the two Russians will play in a final after Kuznetsova beat Safina in the Stuttgart final 6-4, 6-3 last Sunday.

Top seed Safina started slowly against the fourth seed and for the third straight match she dropped the opening set. Williams had been the more aggressive and positive in that opener, hitting twice as many winners but also 50 per cent more unforced errors. But the roles had reversed by the end of the match. Venus went up a break in the second set but Safina stormed back to win that 6-3 and set up the decider.

That was a see-saw affair with five breaks of serve and numerous other opportunities. A backhand crosscourt winner from Safina gave her a third break and a 5-4 advantage, after which she served for the match. But the last game was the most epic of all as Safina served three double faults, saved four break points and finally clinched victory on her third match point. It was the first time she had beaten Williams.

Estoril Open

ESTORIL: James Blake secured his best career showing in European red clay on Friday, riding a second-set surge for a 6-4, 6-1 quarter-final defeat of Florent Serra at the Estoril Open.  The 29-year-old American has never been past the quarter-finals on the surface in Europe, losing twice at that stage in Rome (2002 and 2008).

But new-found confidence on the surface has propelled him into a Saturday showdown with 2003 champion Nikolay Davydenko, who defeated American Mardy Fish 6-4, 6-3. French top-seeded wild card Gilles Simon lost to Spanish No 7 Alberto Montanes 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4). The Spaniard will play for a place in the final against South American Paul Capdeville, who put out Spain's Oscar Hernandez 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Hewitt ousted

MUNICH: Former world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt slid out of the Munich claycourt ATP event on Friday, Czech fourth seed Tomas Berdych ousting the Australian battler 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) in their quarter-final. Unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy pulled off a shock win as he sent Croatian second seed Marin Cilic packing 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Also moving into the semi-finals was experienced Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who knocked out French seventh seed Paul-Henri Mathieu 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Completing the final four is German Daniel Brands, the world number 141, who was leading Italy's Potito Starace 6-4, 1-1 when the latter was forced to retire with a thigh problem.