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Carson semifinals go on tilt

No. 1 Jankovic to play No. 4 Safina while unheralded pair reach other matchup.

July 26, 2008|Lucas Shaw | Special to The Times

Jelena Jankovic continued her move toward becoming the world's top-ranked women's tennis player as unheralded Flavia Pennetta and Bethanie Mattek individually established career bests Friday in the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center.

That left a draw that was heavily tilted toward one side, with No. 1-seeded Jankovic scheduled to play No. 4 Dinara Safina in tonight's semifinal.

Jankovic, now two wins away from claiming the world's top spot, beat No. 9 Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-4, in Friday night's featured match. Safina, who needed three sets and two tiebreaks to prevail Thursday night, had what her coach dubbed the best match of her career, topping Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-1.

"I think today was just a perfect match," Safina said. "I mean there was nothing to say."

In the afternoon semifinal, it will be Pennetta against Mattek.

Pennetta, a 26-year-old Italian, has moved her way up and down the Sony Ericsson WTA tour's top 100 for the last several years, never climbing higher than 16th but ending every year since 2004 in the top 50. While she has won six career singles title, including two in 2008, all of them have been Tier III events. Entering this week, she had not advanced past the quarterfinals of a Tier II event.

That changed Friday afternoon as Pennetta defeated Sybille Bammer of Austria, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-1, in a match that lasted well over two hours.

"The first set was so tough, and the second one I didn't start very well, but after in the third I just tried to be more focused on my game and be more aggressive," Pennetta said.

The victory pushes her 2008 singles record to 32-13 and, for the first time in her career, puts her in a Tier II semifinal. In the semifinals, Pennetta will face Mattek, to whom she lost at this tournament two years ago. Mattek also has never been to the semifinals of a Tier II event.

"I mean there's a little bit more excitement around you," Mattek said. "The key is really to keep everything the same."

Unlike Pennetta, Mattek has found herself on the outside of the top 100 for much of her career.

Having never won any WTA events, the 23-year-old Mattek rose into the top 60 after reaching the semifinals of Birmingham and the fourth round of Wimbledon this year.

After beating two players ranked ahead of her in Nicole Vaidisova and Olga Govortsova, Mattek faced Yuan Meng in the quarterfinals.

After winning the first set, Mattek fell behind in the second set, 5-2. She quickly rebounded, taking the final five games to close the match out 6-2, 7-5. Yuan, who was appearing in the first quarterfinal of her career, acknowledged that she felt fatigued Thursday.

"I got fired up again," Mattek said. "I could sense she was getting a little tired. She was kind of walking slower in between points. We were having some tough rallies, and I was getting tired so I knew she had to be feeling it too."


Featured matches

Today at the East West Bank Classic (seedings in parentheses):

Flavia Pennetta (10) vs. Bethanie Mattek, 12:30 p.m.

Jelena Jankovic (1) vs. Dinara Safina (4), not before 7 p.m.

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