Venus, Wozniacki, Jankovic make Doha semis

The Williams sisters could be headed for a final matchup at the Sony Ericsson Championships after Venus advanced to the knockout rounds along with Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki on Friday.

Venus, the defending champion, lost her first two group matches but advanced on a countback of sets thanks to Svetlana Kuznetsova‘s 6-3, 6-2 win over Elena Dementieva. Venus joined unbeaten sister Serena Williams in the semifinals from the Maroon Group.

Venus, Kuznetsova and Dementieva all finished with one win and two losses.

Jankovic advanced by routing a tired Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2, but the 19-year-old Dane also went through from the injury-plagued White Group when Victoria Azarenka had to retire against alternate Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland when trailing 4-6, 7-5, 4-1 in the most dramatic match of the day.

Azarenka would have advanced with a win, and served for the match twice in the second set. She needed a medical time-out early in the third to treat her left thigh and lower back. She continued playing with the thigh taped, but hobbled around the court in obvious pain, needing another time-out to treat leg cramps before the final game. She came back out, but finally called it quits while down 40-15.

Serena Williams will play Wozniacki in one semifinal on Saturday, and Venus Williams will face Jankovic at the same stage for the second straight year.

Both Williams sisters had the day off after playing on the first three days. The Americans are also playing in the four-team doubles tournament, which starts with the semifinals on Saturday.

Jankovic broke Wozniacki twice in the first set and raced to 4-0 in the second, facing little resistance from the Danish teenager, who’s making her debut in the elite tournament.

“I just came out playing aggressively,” Jankovic said. “I really wanted to dictate the points.”

The former top-ranked Serb lost to Azarenka in straight sets in her first round-robin match, and then won her second when the injured Dinara Safina retired in the third game. In total, she had spent 95 minutes on the court before a rest day on Thursday.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, won two grueling three-set matches that lasted a combined 5 hours, 48 minutes on Wednesday and Thursday, and looked like she had simply run out of energy in the hot weather. She was often a step slow and smiled in resignation when she failed to chase down balls she would normally get to.

“I didn’t have anything left,” Wozniacki said. “I feel so sorry for Victoria, really, because I know how she’s feeling. … But, of course, I’m in the semifinals and I’m happy about that. I’ve also been fighting on the court.”

After struggling with severe leg cramps on Thursday, Wozniacki said aching stomach muscles affected her serve against Jankovic, and she faces a struggle to regain fitness ahead of the semis.

“I’m feeling better every minute that’s going,” she said. “Hopefully a miracle can come.”

Azarenka looked firmly in control but struggled to put away Radwanska, who played her first match in the tournament. Radwanska replaced Vera Zvonareva, who pulled out injured as the replacement for Safina.

Azarenka led 4-0 and 5-2 in the second set, but was broken three times in a row. The Belarusian wasted four game points at 5-6 before Radwanska set up the set point when her overhead backhand got a lucky bounce off the net cord.

Dementieva needed to win to advance, while French Open champion Kuznetsova had nothing to play for but cash, but had her best match of the tournament and never faced a break point. She broke twice in the second set to take a 5-1 lead, and converted her match point with an ace.

“I asked Venus before the game, ‘Will you give me something if I win?”‘ Kuznetsova said. “She was like, ‘If you win, it’s good for yourself.’ I say, ‘OK, whatever.”‘

The Russian qualified for the tournament for the fifth time but has never advanced to the knockout round, with a combined round-robin record of 3-12.