Sharapova drops just nine games in storming run to semi-final


Maria Sharapova has set an Australian Open record to advance to a semi-final against Li Na, who ended Agnieszka Radwanska’s perfect start to the tennis season.

Second-seeded Sharapova, who won the title in 2008, beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2 in an all-Russian quarterfinal at Rod Laver Arena. Sharapova has dropped nine games in reaching the semi-finals of the season-opening Grand Slam, the fewest since the tournament moved to a 128-player draw in 1988.

“If I start the match well, I want to follow through with that along the whole way,” said Sharapova (25). “That’s the important thing. It’s not to think, ‘Oh, well, should I just give away a few games.’ It’s not really a mentality of a winner.”

Sharapova, who withdrew from her only tune-up event because of a collarbone injury, fired twice as many winners as Makarova in a repeat of their quarter-final in Melbourne 12 months ago. Makarova, seeded 19th this year, upset higher-ranked players Marion Bartoli and Angelique Kerber to reach the last eight.

Four-time Grand Slam singles champion Sharapova will face former French Open winner Li for a place in Saturday’s final. Sharapova leads Li 8-4 in career meetings.

‘Tough matches’

“I’ve beaten her the last few times that we’ve played, but they’ve always been really tough matches,” said Sharapova. “She’s had a great start to the year and is playing really well.”

Sixth-seeded Li of China earlier ended Radwanska’s run of 13 straight victories, including 26 sets in a row, to reach her third Australian Open semi-final. Li, 2011 runner-up at Melbourne Park, beat number four seed Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena 12 days after losing to her in Sydney.

She is seeking her second major title after becoming the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros two years ago.

“To win a Grand Slam, you have to win seven matches,” said Li (30). “Before I thought, ‘If I win, who will I play in the fourth round or fifth round?’ Now . . . I’m just taking it match by match.”

Unforced errors

Radwanska served for the first set after Li made three unforced errors and a double fault to give her a 5-4 lead, only for the Pole to lose her service to love. Li held before taking the first set and broke to love for a 4-2 lead in the second set and went on to book her place in the semi-finals.

“Some of the games she didn’t let me do anything,” said Radwanska. “Very deep balls all the time. Good serve. She was really playing good tennis.”

Meanwhile, defending champion Novak Djokovic is set to play David Ferrer in the first of the men’s semi-finals, after the world number one dispatched Tomas Berdych 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and 31 minutes.

Ferrer, a semi-finalist in Melbourne two years ago, beat Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in three hours, 44 minutes.

“He had chances to win and I tried to fight every point. I’m happy because in important points I played more consistent, but in the next round I need to play better,” said Ferrer.

Never gives up

Djokovic is expecting a tough match against the 30-year-old. “David never gives up,” said the Serbian, who leads the Spaniard 9-5. – (Bloomberg)

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