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New Zealand's Sonia Waddell easily qualified for the semifinals at the world championships in Milan today, winning her single sculls repechage.

Waddell led from start to finish, gradually pulling away to win in 7m 30.72s, the third fastest time of the day.

The first two from all four repechage heats qualified for the semifinals and Waddell eased up over the final 500m after opening up an 8s lead over American Kristin Goodridge through 1500m.

Her time was more than 2s quicker than her opening heat two days ago when she was the fifth-fastest rower overall, but second in her heat.

The quickest rower today was Mirka Knapkova, of the Czech Republic, in 7m 27.33s.

Waddell, the wife of Olympic men's champion Rob Waddell, is making her return to top-level rowing after an an 18-month absence following the birth of their daughter, Sophie.

A top-three finish in her semifinal on Thursday will qualify her for the final and earn New Zealand a women's single sculls boat at next year's Athens Olympics.

A top-three finish in the B final would also qualify her because the top nine-ranked scullers earn a ticket to Athens.

Two other New Zealand crews took to the water today for their preliminary heats.

The men's coxed four - Eric Murray, Gary Roberts, Steven Cottle, Grant Carroll and cox James Barrett - started well, coming through the first quarter of their race equal with the leading crews.

But they were unable to respond to the relentless pressure of the United States, the eventual winners, and finished third in 6m 19.83s - 7s behind the Americans and 5s behind second-placed Germany.

The New Zealand team recorded the fifth fastest time of the day, and move through to the repechage.

"This was the first full international race for all the members of this crew and they responded pretty well," coxed four coach Ian Wright said. "We are planning to use the repechage to get a bit more sharpness in our racing and set ourselves up for a big race in the final."

Cottle, who turned 19 two days ago, is one of the youngest rowers to represent NZ at the world champs.

Lightweight men's double scullers Duncan Grant and Nathan Terrey finished second in their heat in a time of 6m 37.57s, less than 3s behind the Germans.

However, they recorded the ninth fastest time and will race in tomorrow's repechages.

- NZPA