NEW YORK (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki stayed on course for a return to the U.S. Open final, fighting near gale-force winds and big forehands from diminutive Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia on Wednesday to reach the semi-finals.
The top-seeded Dane, who breezed through the first four rounds losing just 10 games, navigated the challenges for a 6-2 7-5 victory that set up a semi-finals match with seventh-seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva, the Wimbledon runner-up.
With winds gusting to 33 mph whipping across the Arthur Ashe center court, causing the net to flutter, napkins to blow on the court and service tosses to swerve away, Wozniacki broke the Slovak in the 11th game of the second set and held serve to close out the blustery 105-minute match.
"It felt like playing in a hurricane or something," said 20-year-old Wozniacki, who began the match with her hair pulled back and tied in a pony tail, but ended up braiding it to keep her blond locks from blowing around her face. "But it's the same for both players and I'm so happy to get through."
The wind wreaked havoc with serve and groundstrokes alike, with Cibulkova once tossing the ball four times before finally being able to hit the ball. Another time she was aiming for deuce court and sent her serve wide of the ad court.
Wozniacki hit one serve that bounced about five meters short of the net and bounced over.
Both players hit numerous groundstrokes off their racket frames, making improvisation and guessing at the strength of the wind a vital part of the match.
Cibulkova had a harder time adjusting at the start and dropped her serve the first three times in the opening set.
In the second set, the 5-foot 3-inch Slovak began finding the range with her booming forehand and registered 15 winners off that weapon in the match.
Yet after holding a break point that would have sent the second set to a tiebreaker, Cibulkova sailed a forehand well beyond the baseline to go down to defeat.
Wozniacki, winner of four tournaments this year, could make a significant breakthrough should she get past Zvonareva on Friday and win Saturday's final.
The Dane is looking for her first grand slam title, with a victory fattening her bank account by $2.7 million, including a $1 million bonus for winning the U.S. Open Series this summer, and lifting her to the world number one ranking.
Friday's other semi-final will pit defending champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium, the second seed, against third-seeded American Venus Williams.
Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Frank Pingue