Defending champion Venus Williams advances to final

Friday, January 7th 2005, 11:58 am
By: News On 6

HONG KONG (AP) _ Defending champion Venus Williams of the United States outlasted U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (5) Friday to advance to the final of the Hong Kong Champions Challenge.

The 24-year-old Williams was down 4-1 in the third set, but rallied to force the set into a tiebreaker, which she won after Kuznetsova played a return long.

Williams was delighted with the victory, jumping in the air and blowing kisses to the crowd at Victoria Park Tennis Stadium after the match that lasted 135 minutes.

``This is really what I need. I need these challenges,'' She said.

In Saturday's final Williams, who is ranked ninth in the world, will meet sixth-ranked Russian Elena Dementieva, last year's two-time Grand Slam finalist.

Williams, whose season last year was cut short by injuries, said she was looking forward to playing Dementieva.

``I just feel like I played so well so far and at the right moment and I hope to continue that. Each time I am playing better,'' the American said.

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova pulled out of the tournament because of a stomach virus, although she was not in contention for the title after she lost to Dementieva in the opening round on Wednesday.

Sharapova was supposed to have played Czech player Nicole Vaidisova Friday night but told reporters she was unable to compete because of illness.

``Sadly I have to say last night I got a stomach virus. The doctor had to come to check me out and this morning I was very weak from the virus,'' said the 17-year-old Russian.

``Unfortunately I am not well enough to perform in front of my Hong Kong fans. I don't think I can give my best,'' she added.

The players were using the Hong Kong exhibition tournament as a warmup for the Australian Open in Melbourne later this month.