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Jan. 24, 2013 at 5:15 PM   |   Comments

Djokovic returns to Australian Open final

MELBOURNE, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic easily handled fourth-seeded David Ferrer in straight sets Thursday and will return to the Australian Open finals.

Djokovic needed just 1 hour, 29 minutes to finish off a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 rout of Ferrer, who had lost just three sets -- two in the quarterfinals -- in his first five matches in Melbourne this year.

Djokovic won 86 percent -- 44-of-51 -- of the points on serve and didn't face a break point off Ferrer. He finished off all seven of his break-point chances and won 55 percent of the points off Ferrer's serve.

Djokovic won the last four games of the first set, capping the set with an ace to finish off a love game. A five-game streak gave him a 5-1 lead in the second set and a four-game run was worth a 4-0 advantage in the third set.

Two games after that, Djokovic was in his seventh final in the last nine major tournaments.

Djokovic, who won his first Grand Slam title in Australia in 2008, Sunday will be seeking to become the first man in the Open Era to win the Australian Open three consecutive years. He beat Andy Murray for the 2011 title and Rafael Nadal a year ago in the final.

He'll draw either No. 2-seeded Roger Federer or Murray, who is seeded third, in the 2013 finals. The Federer-Murray semifinal is set for Friday.


Azarenka, Li to meet in Australian final

MELBOURNE, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Defending champion Victoria Azarenka overcame injury and Li Na topped the world No. 2 player Thursday in advancing to the women's final of the Australian Open.

Azarenka, the world No. 1, beat 29th-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4 despite play being stopped as she received medical treatment. Li, the No. 6-seed, rolled by Maria Sharapova, who had lost just nine games in her first five matches in Melbourne, 6-2, 6-2.

Azarenka and Li will square off in Saturday's women's singles final. Azarenka will be in her third final in the last five Grand Slam tournaments. She won in Australia a year ago -- beating Sharapova in the final -- and was in the final at the 2012 U.S. Open, losing to Serena Williams.

Li was a finalist in the 2011 Australian Open, losing in three sets to Kim Clijsters but won the French Open that year. She hadn't proceeded past the fourth round of a major tournament since then.

Azarenka has won the last four times she's played Li, taking a 5-4 lead in their career series.

Azarenka pulled out to a 4-1 lead Thursday before winning the first set and was ahead 5-3 and serving in the second. Stephens fought off five match points in the game and got the break. But Azarenka had to leave the court to have her ribs and left knee checked. When she returned, the players traded points until, on the eighth point, Azarenka converted her sixth match point.

Li opened her match with a service break and soon was up 4-1. Sharapova got one of the breaks back but Li took a lengthy game for a third break and quickly finished off the first set. Li won the last four games of the second set in gaining the finals berth.

Sharapova, who had been exceptional in the first five rounds, had 32 unforced errors -- including six double faults -- against just 17 winners.


Sergio Garcia among Euro Tour leaders

DOHA, Qatar, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Sergio Garcia fired a bogey-free, 6-under-par 66 Thursday and claimed part of the four-way tie for first at the European Tour's Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

Garcia had three birdies on each side in his second round and is at 9-under 135 halfway through the tournament.

First-round leader Ricardo Santos had five birdies and three bogeys Thursday for a 2-under 70 and is tied with Garcia. Also in first are Marcus Fraser and Martin Kaymer, who each had second round scores of 5-under 67.

Five players are tied for fifth at 8-under 136 and another five are at 7-under. A total of 30 golfers are within four strokes of the lead.

Santos lengthened his one-stroke, first-round lead with three birdies in his first four holes Thursday. He slipped back with a bogey at No. 7 and, as he did in the first round, went birdie-bogey-birdie over Nos. 10-12. A bogey 5 at the 15th hole left him tied for first.

Garcia, who had just one bogey Wednesday, had a birdie at the fourth hole Thursday and four more over the span of Nos. 7-12. A birdie at 16 pulled him into the tie for the lead.

Fraser, who started the second round on the back nine, bunched his five birdies over Nos. 1-7. Three of Kaymer's birdies were on par 3s.


Te'o says he wasn't involved in hoax

NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o told a U.S. TV interviewer he wasn't "forthcoming" about a hoax involving a phony online girlfriend, but denied lying about it.

In an interview that aired Thursday, Te'o, 21, told Katie Couric he had been tricked into believing his online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died of cancer in September.

Asked whether he had "any involvement in creating the scam," Te'o replied, "No, I did not."

"I think what people don't realize is the same day everybody else found out about this situation, I found out," he said. "I got the call on Dec. 6, saying that she was alive and from Dec. 6 to Jan. 16, my whole reality was that she was dead. Now all of a sudden she was alive. At that time, I didn't know it was just somebody's prank."

Te'o admitted he misled the media about how he met Kekua and said, "For people feeling that they were misled, that I'm sorry for."

"I wasn't as forthcoming about it, but I didn't lie," he said. "I never was asked did I meet her in person. Through the embarrassment and the fear of what people would think about me being committed to this person I didn't have a chance to meet and she all of a sudden died, that scared me. And to avoid any further conversation, I wasn't as forthcoming as I should have been."

Te'o said he "basked in" knowing he "people turned to me for inspiration."

"My story I felt was a guy in times of hardship and times of trial really held strong to his faith ... and family. I thought that was my story," he said.

"What I went through was real," Te'o said. "The feelings, the pain, the sorrow -- that was all real. That was something I can't fake."

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