tennis: Fernandez's first 4.25; Debut in final four.
ALL four women's semifinal places at the French Open were claimed by players from the Americas, with top seeded American Jennifer Capriati yesterday joining compatriots Venus and Serena Williams and Argentinian Clarisa Fernandez in the final four.
Unseeded sensation Fernandez, only 20, qualified for her firstever Grand Slam semi-final by coming back from a set down against compatriot Paula Suarez to finally claim victory 2-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 in just over two hours.
She has already ousted fourth seed Kim Clijsters and 11th seed Elene Dementieva and becomes the first unseeded player since Capriati 12 years ago to reach this stage at Roland Garros.
Left-handed Fernandez is also the first Argentinian to qualify for the French Open semis since Gabriela Sabatini in 1992.
While she provided the story of the day, her three powerful rivals all looked in supreme form as they dropped just one set between them in their respective quarter-final encounters.
Capriati was the last to book her ticket to the semis after being pushed hard in knocking out seventh seed Jelena Dokic in three sets.
The 26-year-old American had her longest fight of the week as she needed one hour and 34 minutes to overcome her Yugoslav rival 6-4 4-6 6-1.
After winning the first set Capriati broke Dokic at the start of the second but soon found herself struggling on her serve, which she duly lost three times.
But the defending champion held on to her nerves to finally clinch victory and a semi-final clash with Serena Williams by converting her first match point with a winning return.
Capriati said afterwards: ``My game against Dokic was a good preparation for my next clash against Serena. This was a tough game and it gives me more confidence to have come out of it.
Dokic, meanwhile, admits her lack of concentration and nervousness cost her the match against Capriati. ``I had so many chances in the first set but I lacked concentration,'' she said, ``we were both very nervous and in the last set I did not play well.
``I also had a lot of problems on my serve.'' She insists she is now turning all her attention to the grass season - her strongest surface. ``I now want to think about Wimbledon and I will try to play as many preparatory tournaments as possible.
``I look forward to the grass season, even if it's a bit short, but grass is definitely my favourite surface.''
Capriati's next opponent, third seed Serena Williams, took less than 50 minutes to hammer French favourite Mary Pierce 6-1 6-1.
Williams, 20, won her first ever clay title in Rome in May and has reached the French Open semis for the first time in her career.
She is convinced being ``older and wiser'' is the key to her latest success.
``The game was not as easy as it looked but I was very focused as I knew she (Pierce) could be a hard player to face especially here in Paris where her best tennis comes out,'' she said.
``I feel a little bit older and wiser. I have always felt comfortable on clay and now I feel I am a real clay player.
``I also have a little bit more experience under my belt having played more tournaments since last year. I know I will have a tough opponent in the next round and I want to stay focused and keep going.''
In the other match yesterday Serena's sister, Venus, also cruised into the last four by knocking out sixth seed and compatriot Monica Seles 6-4 6-3.
ALL SMILES: Clarisa Fernandez powers her way to the semi-finals yesterday