Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Hingis through to final

Top seed Martina Hingis got an armchair ride into the final of the Australian Women's Hardcourt tennis championships here Friday when her opponent, Tathiana Garbin, retired due to illness.

Hingis was trailing 3-4 in their semi-final when Garbin called for a trainer after she experienced breathing difficulties.

The Italian had been holding her own against the former world number one when she began to feel the effects of a viral illness she had been suffering this week.

After taking an injury break, Garbin decided she could not continue and handed the match to Hingis, who will now play Russian second seed Dinara Safina in the final.

"That's quite unusual because it's the first time in my life I've been down and my opponent has defaulted," Hingis said.

Hingis started the match slowly, losing her first two service games and trailing 1-3 early in the set.

But she said once she started to find some form she was able to move Garbin around the court, and that was when the Italian began to have difficulties.

"I could see she started to struggle a little bit and she was leaning over the banner," Hingis said.

"She definitely surprised me in the beginning and I had to earn my points."

Hingis said she wasn't disappointed she was missing out on valuable match practice ahead of the Australian Open after a series of easy wins this week.

"I played very well in the first couple of matches," she said. "Maybe sometimes you have to go into matches with the plan to stay awake.

"When you go into matches, you can't take them lightly. But now I've had a couple of easier days and I'll definitely be ready for the final."

The unseeded Garbin -- who contracted the viral infection on Monday -- has now lost all five encounters she has had with Hingis.

"This week I played my best tennis but I was sick for days," Garbin said.

"I tried to keep going even though I was sick. It was tough, but I did it anyway."

The second semi-final was a brutal slugfest between two youngsters fighting for every point.

Leading 5-2 in the second set and serving for the match, 19-year-old fifth seed Shahar Peer crumbled under pressure to allow Safina to force a tiebreak which the Russian blitzed 7-1.

A short rain delay appeared to aid Safina even further and the 20-year-old world number 11 went on to storm through the deciding set 6-1 against a shellshocked Peer and claim the match in two hours, 15 minutes.

Swiss star Martina Hingis waits to return serve from Italian opponent Tathiana Garbin during the Mondial Australian Women's Hardcourts tennis semifinal match at the Gold Coast on Friday. PHOTO: AFP