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Venus Williams Reaches Final In Memphis

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AP
Venus Williams came to Memphis to work herself back into competitive shape. Now she has a chance to cap her return in winning style.

Playing her first tournament since October after recovering from a left wrist injury, Williams beat qualifier Ioana Raluca Olaru of Romania 6-3, 6-2 on Friday night to advance to the Cellular South Cup final.

Williams never faced a break points and needed only 70 minutes to beat Olaru in the semifinal match. The former No. 1 player has a chance to win her first title since Wimbledon in 2005 at the Tier III event where the winner's check is $25,840.

"I'm excited about (having a chance at) winning the title, yes," Williams said.

"For me every time I go to a tournament, I feel like I have the opportunity to win it. I'm disappointed if I walk away without the win. Even now just coming back for me, each and every one is important."

She hadn't played since a second-round loss in Luxembourg because of her wrist. That forced her to withdraw from the Australian Open _ which sister Serena won in January _ and from an event in Belgium last week.

Williams will play Shahar Peer of Israel, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over Meilen Tu.

In the quarterfinals of the men's Regions Morgan Keegan Championships, top-seeded Andy Roddick broke his racket out of frustration, then rallied to beat Taiwan's Yen-Hsun Lu 6-4, 7-6 (7) after facing four set points.

With Roddick's victory, the top four seeds advanced to the semifinals for the first time in the tournament since 1998 when Marcelo Rios, Michael Chang, Gustavo Kuerten and Mark Philippoussis did so. It's the first time the top four seeds reached the semifinals in a tour event since the French Open last year.

"It's nice to see we're doing the job," second-seeded Tommy Haas said.

Fourth-seeded Mardy Fish advanced to his second semifinal this year when Teimuraz Gabashvili

retired because of a viral illness. Fish led 6-2, 4-1 when Gabashvili became the third player this week to retire for that reason.

Fish will play Haas, the defending champion. Haas advanced with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Sam Querrey, while Murray beat Stefan Koubek of Austria 6-3, 6-2 in 61 minutes.

Williams served effectively against Olaru, scoring on 26 of her 31 first serves. Olaru fought off three of six break points to extend the match, and Williams at least knows what to expect of top-seeded Peer, who lost to Serena in the Aussie quarterfinals last month.

"She does everything well," Williams said.

Roddick, the tournament winner in 2002, is the semifinals for the third time in three tournaments this year. He will play 19-year-old Andy Murray, who beat him in the semifinals last week in San Jose. Roddick also lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open semis last month.

"It's a frustrating dynamic to feel like you're on the verge of playing well, but not quite there," Roddick said. "That's kind of what I've been battling the past few weeks and battling in these tournaments and trying to give myself another chance to play."

But Lu, 90th in the world and in his first quarterfinal, broke Roddick's serve twice and went up 2-4 in the second. He held serve for a 2-5 lead despite Roddick having four break points, prompting the American to yell and smash his racket against the court and break it in half with his hands.

Roddick held and broke back, then held serve himself to force the tiebreak only to fall behind 3-6 in the tiebreaker.

Then Roddick won the next three points and tied it up at 6-6 when Lu double-faulted for the seventh time in the set. Lu hit a backhand crosscourt for a 6-7 lead only to hit forehands into the net on two of the next three points, the last giving Roddick the win.

Fish has reached the quarterfinals or better in each of his four tournaments this season and now is in his second semifinal of 2007. His serve couldn't be more effective this week. He won eacpoint on 19 of his first serves and had 11 aces to one for the Russian, who never had a chance.

"He called the trainer at 3-0, I just assumed it was a frustration trainer call more than anything," Fish said.

Haas needed only 44 minutes to beat Querrey for the second time in two tournaments. The German, who won here in 1999 and in 2006, has not faced a break point this week and had seven aces to only one by the big-serving Querrey.

Murray of Scotland, who successfully defended his title last week at San Jose, rolled into his second consecutive semifinal by saving two break points on his serve. He has won eight straight matches going back to San Jose.

"I feel like these are the sort of runs I need to go on to prove to people I can go deep in the slams and keep up play for two weeks. I haven't done that before, and I hope I can do it now," Murray said.