By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Briton Andy Murray reached the last four of the Australian Open for the second successive year after being shaken but not stirred by swashbuckling Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
The fifth seed, who counts James Bond actor and fellow Scot Sean Connery among his fans, stuttered in the third set but prevailed 7-5 6-3 6-7 6-3 to set up a semi-final against Rafa Nadal or David Ferrer, who meet later on Wednesday.
Kim Clijsters earlier got a lift from an Australia Day flypast to come through her own sticky patch and beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3 7-6, setting up a last four meeting with Vera Zvonareva after the Russian beat Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-4.
Murray, who lost the final here last year, had been in intimidating form all week and continued in similar fashion to race to two sets and a break up against the talented-but-wasteful Melbourne Park debutant Dolgopolov.
Dolgopolov's quickfire serve and unorthodox strokes had helped stunned fourth seed Robin Soderling in the fourth round and he went for his winners aggressively but with insufficient accuracy to worry Murray.
The world number 46, however, suddenly found his touch and some consistency in a tight one-hour third set to break back to force a tiebreak, which Murray conspired to lose 7-3 with a string of errors.
"Just hitting with him on the baseline was just suicidal... I had to go for the balls and I think I was playing the right tactic," said the 22-year-old Ukrainian, who ended up with 77 unforced errors.
The crowd were now firmly behind the underdog but Dolgopolov could not keep up the pace and Murray rattled through the final set in just 32 minutes to keep alive his hopes of ending Britain's 75-year wait for a men's grand slam champion.
"It was just difficult to get into a rhythm. Did quite a lot of running... it was a tough match."
In the absence of injured 2010 champion Serena Williams, third seed Clijsters is favorite to win her first Australian Open crown this year even if she has not been at her best since the first round 6-0 6-0 drubbing of Dinara Safina.
The 27-year-old Belgian hustled and bustled her way through the opening set in less than half an hour and took a 4-2 lead in the second before allowing Radwanska back into the contest with a slew of unforced errors.
The 12th seed won four straight games to put herself on the brink of leveling the match when she served for the set at 5-4, just as an aerobatics team started flying low and loud over the Rod Laver Arena in celebration of the national holiday.
Both knew that this was a key point in the match and slugged it out through 12 lengthy points but Radwanska blew her chance and Clijsters regathered herself, going on to win the tiebreak 7-4 with a clubbed backhand.
"I think the planes took me up higher," Clijsters laughed, before adding: "It was a little scary for me, they looked like they were very low.
"I just physically felt a little bit tired and heavy out there today," Clijsters added. "There were rallies where I felt good, I was hitting the ball, there were rallies when I didn't feel right in the position where I should be at."
The three-times U.S. Open champion will probably have to raise her game for the semi-final against Zvonareva, whose win over Kvitova was also disrupted by Australia Day celebrations when a 21-gun salute boomed out over the city.
Wearing a black ribbon on her visor in memory of the victims of Monday's bombing at Moscow airport, Zvonareva was a class above the Czech.
An aggressive Zvonareva clipped through the first set in 29 minutes and was 3-0 up in the second when Kvitova got onto the front foot, slugging her way back into the contest at 3-3.
Zvonareva, however, is determined to prove she can win a grand slam this year and ultimately went through a comfortable winner when Kvitova overcooked a forehand after 75 minutes.
"There will be moments where you lose your focus and you will have one or two unforced errors," said Zvonareva, a tearful losing finalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.
"But I'm really happy the way I handled the situation after, and I was able to come up with some good shots when I needed it and finish in two sets."
(Editing by John O'Brien)