Williams advances to Sydney final

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SYDNEY (AP) — Top-ranked Serena Williams came from a set and 5-2 down to beat France’s Avarane Rezai 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday and move into the Sydney International final against defending champion Elena Dementieva.

Rezai was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set but reigning Australian Open champion Williams won the next five games to level the match and go a break up in the third.

Rezai recovered breaks in the first and seventh games of the third set but Williams broke her to lead 5-4 and then served it out.

“Was I down that far? I didn’t even realize,” Williams said, responding to a question in an on court interview. “I was thinking, ‘What time can I practice tomorrow at Melbourne?'”

Williams has won 35 titles, but has never reached the Sydney final.

“Cool … finally,” she said, relishing the opportunity to prepare for the Australian Open.

“That was good because she played really hard, like a top player.”

Williams, winner of 11 Grand Slam singles titles, will play Friday against Olympic champion Dementieva, who beat sixth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-3, 6-1.

“I expect a tough match. She’s a great champion,” Dementieva said of Williams. “I just hope it’s going to be a good match for both of us, and good preparation for the Open.”

In men’s quarterfinals, Richard Gasquet had a 6-3, 7-6 (7) win over Potito Starace and Julien Benneteau beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-0.

Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt played 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis later Thursday. Hewitt is aiming for his fifth Sydney title.

The Australian Open starts Monday in Melbourne.