By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki dragged herself back from the brink to power into the semi-finals of the Australian Open with a gritty 3-6 6-3 6-3 win over a dogged Francesca Schiavone on Tuesday.
Down a set and trailing 3-1, the Danish top seed shifted up a gear to mow through six straight games before closing out a hard-fought match in 144 minutes under a cloudy sky at Rod Laver Arena.
The 30-year-old Schiavone saved three match points and broke Wozniacki to claw back to 5-3 in the third, but her record-breaking marathon against Svetlana Kuznetsova showed as she tired to surrender the match in a hail of unforced errors.
"I was just thinking one ball at a time and I really didn't have too many chances in the first set," the world number one Wozniacki said in a courtside interview.
"I was just trying to step into the court and dictate a little bit more.
"I fought back so I'm just so happy to standing here as the winner."
The blonde 20-year-old will play China's Li Na for a place in the final, and will be glad to have finished strongly after appearing listless and leaden-footed for half of the match.
Wozniacki managed only a single winner in the first set, while evergreen hustler Schiavone had a swipe at everything, determined to wrap proceedings up quickly after being involved in a four-hour 44-minute war of attrition against Russian Kuznetsova, a women's grand slam record.
The feisty Italian's fast start was rewarded with a breakpoint at 4-3, and the out-of-sorts Wozniacki defended it weakly, poking a half-hearted forehand into the net.
Schiavone survived three break points then wrapped up the set with a fearless rush to the net to guide a sweetly-struck backhand volley down the line.
After Wozniacki took a lengthy medical time-out, the Italian pressed the advantage, benefiting from a lucky deflection off the net that left her opponent bamboozled and brought up three break points.
Wozniacki sensed her chance and began dictating the play, bashing winners off the baseline and moving the tiring Schiavone around the court.
Schiavone pushed a languid return down the tram-lines to concede the set and botched an easy volley in the next game to go a break down in the third.
The Italian scrapped her way back with two more service breaks but Wozniacki slammed the door shut with a deft lob that left Schiavone stranded at the net and trailing 5-2.
Wozniacki's semi-final appearance is her first at Melbourne Park after previously only making it as far as the fourth round and brings her a step closer to her maiden grand slam.
(Editing by John O'Brien)