Gonzalez reaches China semi-finals after rain delays

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BEIJING, Sept 14 (Reuters) World number seven Fernando Gonzalez stayed on course for a first title of the year after a rain-disrupted 7-5 6-7 6-4 quarter-final victory over South Korea's Lee Hyung-taik at the China Open today.

With top seed Nikolay Davydenko bowing out yesterday, the Chilean will go into the weekend as favourite to win the 0,000 tournament but will have to be much more consistent if he is to get past Ivan Ljubicic or Marcos Baghdatis in the semi-finals.

As dark clouds gathered over the Beijing Tennis Centre, the second seed started as he left off in his humbling of compatriot Paul Capdeville on Wednesday and hustled and harried his way to a 5-0 lead after just 19 minutes.

All of a sudden, though, the 27-year-old was on the back foot and rather than raking winners, Gonzalez was ballooning the ball into the leaden skies and flinging his racket around in frustration.

''Lee wasn't playing too well at the beginning, then he started to play well and I missed a few shots,'' said Gonzalez, who made 21 unforced errors in the two-hour-23-minute contest.

Sixth seed Lee, the Asian number one, took full advantage by winning the next five games and levelling the match before rain caused play to be suspended.

WET WEATHER The first rain-break rejuvenated Gonzalez and he again racked up five straight games to win the first set and take a 3-0 lead in the second before the wet weather returned.

''It was really tough because we stopped so many times,'' said Gonzalez, who reached the final of the Australian Open in January. ''Mentally it was really tough.'' Gonzalez was without a win since June when he arrived in Beijing and his problems returned after the nearly two-hour rain-break with Lee again levelling the set and forcing a tiebreak, which he won 7-5.

The Chilean took the initiative in the decider by breaking Lee in the first game but again let the cool Korean off the hook when serving to go 5-3 up.

This time Gonzalez would not be denied, though, and he broke back immediately before keeping his own serve and claiming a place in the semi-finals with a rasping forehand winner nearly five hours after the players arrived on court.

''The rain suspensions were not the main reason I lost,'' said Lee. ''The ball was wet and a bit heavy but Gonzalez was just better and more aggressive in the third set.'' Reuters PDS RS2038

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