MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Serena Williams finally hit form to oust Olympic champion Elena Dementieva and move into her fourth Australian Open final. Now one more Russian, Dinara Safina, stands between Williams and a 10th Grand Slam title.
Williams, who won the Australian title in 2003, 2005 and 2007, played her best match of the tournament in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Dementieva on Thursday.
“I haven't moved like that for a while, so I was a little shocked,” said Williams, still leaving room for improvement. "A perfect match for me? Oh, no, no, no. But it was definitely better."
She'll get her chance to extend the alternate-year sequence of titles when she meets No. 3-ranked Safina, who beat fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal.
The winner of Saturday night's final will also earn the No. 1 ranking.
Safina's older brother, Marat Safin, won the title here in 2005, the day after Williams had beaten then No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in the women's final.
Safina is yet to win a major, losing the 2008 French Open final to Ana Ivanovic in her best previous run. She lost to Williams in last year's U.S. Open semifinals.
The roof was closed at Rod Laver Arena for both women's semifinals, protecting the players and fans from outside temperatures topping 111 degrees.
Williams commended tournament organizers for deciding early to close the roof rather than wait, as they had Wednesday, until halfway through her quarterfinal against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"It was really, really hot today," she said, "and, uhm, it was really hot."
News updates during the semifinals reported it was the hottest January day since 1939 in Melbourne. The temperature hit 112 at 4:43 p.m.
It was almost as hot Wednesday when Williams was only a game from a quarterfinal exit, having to break Kuznetsova when the Russian was serving for the match.
Twice before, Williams has had to save match points in her semifinal en route to the Australian title.
But the reigning U.S. Open champion found her rhythm quickly against Dementieva, who has not gone past the semifinals at a Grand Slam since 2004.
"I just really wasn't playing well at all. I just wasn't bringing it," she said of her first five matches here. "I thought that I was just going to have to do whatever it takes to win.
"This is definitely not over. I have to play a really tough opponent who wants to win … it (could) be their first Grand Slam. That's super exciting."
Williams ended Dementieva's best bid in four years for a major.
The Russian was on a 15-match winning streak, including two titles and wins over Williams and Safina at the Sydney International.
"I had a good run …(but) I feel like today I was not quick enough," Dementieva said. "I was not maybe aggressive enough against her. She dictated points.
"But I have no regrets. I had just a great time here."
While it was cooler inside than out at Melbourne Park, Williams already had soaked through her blue dress by the time the second game was over, not surprising since they had played 16 minutes.
When Williams blasted a clean crosscourt winner while serving at 3-3, she gave Dementieva a long glare. Dementieva smacked a service return winner on the next point and glared right back.
Dementieva held to start the second set in a game that went to deuce five times and lasted 14 minutes, then broke Williams en route to a 3-0 lead.
That sparked a four-game run for Williams until Dementieva broke to even the second set at 4-4.
Then nerves seemed to get the best of Dementieva. Having problems with her service toss, she double-faulted twice, the second setting up break point.
Williams ripped a backhand winner down the line and pumped her fist.
Williams has had problems with her first serve throughout the tournament, but it came through when she needed it most.
Serving for the match at 5-4, she started with an ace and hit another serve that Dementieva sent long.
At 30-15, Williams followed with another ace. Dementieva squealed and bent over in frustration. Another powerful serve on match point set up an easy overhead and it was over in 98 minutes.
Roger Federer, seeking a record-equaling 14th Grand Slam singles title to match Pete Sampras' career record, was playing American Andy Roddick in the night semifinal.
No. 2 Federer, who is 15-2 against the seventh-seeded Roddick, who beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Top-ranked Rafael Nadal set up an all-Spanish final against Fernando Verdasco when he beat No. 6 Gilles Simon 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 on Wednesday night.
Verdasco ousted 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Photo: Serena Williams