Maria Sharapova sets up semi-final clash with Serena Williams at Brisbane International

In the men’s event, unseeded Australian Lleyton Hewitt beat sixth-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 7-5 6-3

Maria Sharapova of Russia in action  against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia during the Brisbane International tournament in Brisbane, Australia. Photograph: AP Photo

Maria Sharapova of Russia in action against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia during the Brisbane International tournament in Brisbane, Australia. Photograph: AP Photo

Thu, Jan 2, 2014, 20:57

Maria Sharapova rallied to beat Kaia Kanepi yesterday and will meet Serena Williams in the Brisbane International semi-final knowing she must drastically improve to end her run of 13 defeats against the world number one.

Williams comfortably beat Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 6-3 6-3 in 61 minutes, winning the first set without losing a point on serve – a feat she had not achieved since she was a junior. Prior to this match, Sharapova was involved in an error-strewn battle as she came from a set down to defeat Estonia’s Kanepi 4-6 6-3 6-2 in two hours.

In contrast to Williams’ start, which she credited to the extra attention paid to her serve during the off-season, Sharapova’s match began with four straight breaks of serve and she went on to total 17 unforced errors in the first set. Had 2012 champion Kanepi been in better form herself – the match produced 66 clangers in total – the Sharapova-Williams semi-final match-up the tournament organisers had been hoping for would have been scuppered.

More improvement
The Russian did improve as the match went on and in the third set her service accuracy improved to 84 per cent, nearly double her efforts in the first two sets, but she knows her game needs plenty more improvement.

“You’re going up against a great champion that’s playing great tennis at the moment,” Sharapova said. “You know that you have to raise your level in order to beat her. I think the intensity level of our matches are always high.”

Although the contests between the two have been one-sided, Sharapova herself says she needs “to win a few times in order to call it rivalry”, the pair’s frosty off-court relations ensured the clash is the biggest in the women’s game. When asked about her relationship with Williams following her victory over Kanepi, the Russian replied: “I have said everything I had to say about it.”

The American was slightly more forthcoming. “I had a great talk with her,” Williams said. “I don’t have anything against her or anything.” Despite these protestations their body language will be heavily scrutinised when they step onto Pat Rafter Arena today.

Elsewhere, second seed Victoria Azarenka let slip nine match points before beating Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-4 6-7 (7-9) 6-1. The Belarusian next plays fourth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic who defeated German Angelique Kerber 6-7 (8-10) 6-3 6-1.

In the men’s event, unseeded Australian Lleyton Hewitt beat sixth-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 7-5 6-3 and next faces Romanian qualifier Marius Copil in the quarter-finals. Copil put out third seed Gilles Simon of France 7-5 6-3.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal had to dig deep for a place in the last four of the ATP Qatar Open as the world number one overcame the challenge of Ernests Gulbis in the yesterday’s s quarter-finals.

The Spaniard edged a tight opening set but his game then fell apart at the start of the second allowing the Latvian seventh seed to race into a 3-0 lead. However, Nadal came back strongly to seal a 7-5 6-4 victory. He will now face qualifier Peter Gojowczyk.