Yoni Erlich and his South African mixed-doubles partner, Liezel Huber, advanced yesterday to the semifinals of the mixed doubles at the Australian Open with a 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-6 (10-5) victory over top seeds Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain.
The win earns the pair a clash with the fourth seeds and defending champions Leander Paes and Martina Navratilova, who beat Andy Ram and his partner, Anastasia Rodinova, in the finals of the Wimbledon mixed doubles last year.
Erlich, who is ranked a lowly 476 in the world singles rankings, only hooked up with Huber the day before the tournament began. "I was looking for a partner; she was looking for a partner; and in the end, someone from the WTA hooked us up. I'm really happy with her. She's a great player," Erlich told Haaretz.
Erlich, who reached the same stage at Wimbledon in the men's doubles together with Andy Ram, says that mixed doubles is mostly for the fun, to put on a show for the fans. But at Grand Slam tournaments, things are different; and with a purse of $102,000 for the pair that lifts the title, the pressure will be on tomorrow morning against Paes and Navratilova.
Navratilova, 48, is 22 years older than Erlich, and has won 170 singles titles and 128 doubles titles in her illustrious career. Erlich has won three doubles titles.
"I'm not afraid of Navratilova and Paes," Erlich said. "I went to see then in the quarterfinals and although they won, they were very uptight. I have time until Friday. I'll speak to Andy and get a few tips off him about his game against them at Wimbledon. We'll be going on court to give a show to the fans and there's no reason we shouldn't win."
Shahar Pe'er, the other remaining Israeli at the Open, advanced another stage in the girl's tournament yesterday. Pe'er, seeded 13th, beat Sophie Ferguson 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to set up a clash with Michaela Johansson of Sweden in the last 16. Pe'er was also due to play overnight in the second round of the girl's doubles.
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