In absence of Nadal, a new Spaniard emerges

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -In the absence of Rafael Nadal, another Spaniard is taking the spotlight at the Australian Open.

The 30-year-old David Ferrer is typically upstaged by Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam winner who is part of the so-called Big Four of today's tennis.

The dominant No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Roger Federer, No. 3 Andy Murray plus Nadal have combined to win 33 of the last 34 Grand Slams.

But this year in Melbourne, Ferrer has literally taken Nadal's place.

When Nadal withdrew before the tournament started due to illness and injury, Ferrer moved up a notch to take his No. 4 seed.

After the tournament ends, Ferrer will overtake Nadal to reach No. 4 in the rankings.

On Tuesday, Ferrer captivated center court as he came back from two sets down to win a gripping quarterfinal against another Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

"It was a miracle I won this match," said Ferrer, who tends to be humble. "I tried to fight every point. That's my game. I always fight."

For his efforts, the 30-year-old Ferrer will face top-seeded Djokovic in the semifinals.

"I'm expecting a long one," Djokovic said after a straight set win over fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych. "He never gives up."

On Tuesday, Ferrer showed his flourish and fighting spirit after an initial slow start.

He survived once in the third set and twice in the fourth when the tenth-seeded Almagro was serving for the match.

Almagro dominated the first two sets, sending some stunning winners down the line. He was serving for the match in the third set when Ferrer bounced back, breaking his Davis Cup teammate in the crucial 10th game and then breaking again.

Almagro hurt his upper left leg late in the fourth set, which is when Ferrer finally took control in a tiebreaker to force a fifth set.

"In the important moments, I played more consistent," said Ferrer, who has now played and beaten Almagro 13 times. "Of course, in the next round, the semifinals, I need to play my best tennis, better than today."

Ferrer has reached four Grand Slam semifinals in his career, including at the 2011 Australian Open where he beat Nadal in the quarters before losing to Murray.

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WILLIAMS SISTERS OUT: Perhaps it was a bad omen for the Williams sisters when one of Venus' shots from the baseline pegged Serena in the back during their doubles match.

Serena shook it off, but the match went downhill from there.

After winning the first set in their Australian Open quarterfinal against the top-ranked Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the Williams sisters lost 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5, halting the Americans' bid for their 14th Grand Slam doubles title.

Older sister Venus was to blame for a string of errors at crucial moments, including two double faults before losing her service game to give the Italians a 6-5 edge in the third set.

Errani served out the 2-hour, 36-minute match without dropping a point, thanks in part to Venus sending the final shot into the net.

"We don't think she played bad," Errani said about Venus at a post-match news conference. "Maybe she made some mistakes in the last few games ... but that's pressure and it's normal at that stage."

"It shows they're human," she added.

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ATTITUDE CHECK: Troubled player Bernard Tomic was told to change his attitude if he wants to play for Australia's Davis Cup team, captain Pat Rafter said.

A falling out between Rafter and Tomic in November resulted in the 20-year-old getting axed from his team's first-round matches in February.

"We had our issues," Rafter said. "The reason we left him out was hopefully to teach him a lesson."

Rafter didn't get into the "issues" but said he spoke to Tomic after his third-round loss to Roger Federer over the weekend. It was their first talk since the fallout and they had "a great conversation."

But he went on to describe what sounded like a pretty tense conversation.

"He needs to respect me and I need to respect him in that manner," said Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champion. "If we have a breakdown, then obviously that's not a good thing."

He said Tomic remains suspended from the Davis Cup team that will head to Taipei, which is Lleyton Hewitt, Marinko Matosevic, Matt Ebden and Chris Guccione. He said Tomic's eligibility for the next round, if Australia advances, would be based both on his tennis and his temperament.

"The stipulation was that, `You're playing well and you show the attitude that you did here at the Australian Open, then you'll be up for selection like all the other guys," Rafter said he told Tomic.

Seen as one of Australia's rising talents, Tomic reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals as a qualifier in 2011 and advanced to the fourth round at last year's Australian Open. But after hitting a career-high No. 27 in June, Tomic's ATP ranking slid to a year-end No. 52.

There were questions about his performance at the U.S. Open in September in which he was accused of "tanking," or deliberately losing, in a match against American Andy Roddick.

He also had a few run-ins with the law at home. He was fined for a variety of driving offenses. In October, Tomic got into a fight with a friend in a hot tub on an apartment balcony that got so rowdy police were called in.

The antics upstaged Tomic's talent and drew criticism from other Australian players who called on him to change his priorities and focus on his tennis.

The new year is off to a good start.

He was the only Australian man to reach the third round at the Australian Open.

Rafter suggested that Tomic may have been fired up at the Australian Open after getting passed over for a slot on the Davis Cup team.

"I think he came back at us pretty well," said Rafter, a two-time winner of the U.S. Open in the 1990s. "I think he used that anger, channeled it, and played some great tennis here."

"Obviously if he's playing like he was at the back end of last year it would be hard to put him in." he said. "If he's playing like he is now, obviously he'll be a starter for sure."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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