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Sharapova reaches first Aussie Open semifinal

1/25/2005

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams shrugged off the
searing heat and beat second-ranked Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2
Tuesday to set up a semifinal showdown against Wimbledon champion
Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. Wed.).
Williams, who won the championship in 2003 but couldn't defend
the title last year because of a knee injury, slammed 23 winners
and needed just 71 minutes to beat Mauresmo.
"I feel great," she said. "I played really well -- I was just
really focused."
Williams converted breakpoint chances twice in each set against
Mauresmo, who had 27 unforced errors and was hampered by a thigh
injury.
Williams didn't win a major title in 2004, lost the Wimbledon
final -- as the two-time defending champion -- to Sharapova.
Russians have won the last three Grand Slam titles, and two of
those champions met Tuesday in a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park.
Sharapova overcame U.S. Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6,
6-2, 6-2, with both players struggling in the heat.
Kuznetsova failed to hold any of her last eight service games
and gave Sharapova, 17, a match point with a
double-fault.
Sharapova, whose screeching increased with every shot, whipped a
running forehand crosscourt winner to close out the match in 2
hours, 17 minutes. She dropped her racket and flung both arms in
the air.
"I need a wheelchair right now," said Sharapova, on the verge
of exhaustion. "Just mentally, I tried to tough it out."
The temperature at the start of the match was 87 degrees, and
rose to 91 degrees, but a warm, dry wind made it feel hotter on
center court.
Serena raced through her quarterfinal and said heat wasn't a big
factor. While her match was in progress on center court, matches on
outside courts were suspended under the tournament's extreme heat
policy.

Williams' toughest time came after she beat Mauresmo. She
bristled when asked whether her and sister Venus' skills -- they
have combined for 10 Grand Slam singles titles -- are declining, and
whether she needs to win this tournament to prove they aren't.
"I'm tired of not saying anything, but that's not fair,"
Williams snapped. "We've been practicing really hard. We've had
some serious injuries."
Her voice catching, she also spoke about the shooting death of
half-sister Yetunde Price in September 2003.
"We have a very, very, very, very, very close family,"
Williams said. "To be in some situation that we've been placed in
the past little over a year, it's not easy to come out and just
perform at your best when you realize there are so many things that
are so important.
"We're not declining. I don't have to win this tournament to
prove anything. I know that I'm one of the best players out here."
She certainly looked to be against Mauresmo, who said she was only at 50 percent after tweaking the thigh that she wrapped for
every match to try to avoid a recurrence of a muscle strain.
Mauresmo, one of the fittest players on the women's tour, has
been plagued by injuries and withdrew from the Australian Open last
year before her quarterfinal match with a back muscle strain.

Organizers won't allow matches to start after the temperature
reaches 95 degrees, and other factors, including humidity and the
temperature on court, reach set limits.
Williams said she was looking forward to a rematch with
Sharapova, who has won their last two matches.
"I have to just focus on my next match," she said. "We played
a couple of times. She's been doing great."
Williams vowed to be more relaxed this time against Sharapova.

In the first match, Sharapova and Kuznetsova took a 10-minute
break between the second and third sets. During breaks between
games, they put ice packs and wet towels on their necks.
Each constantly walked into the small patches of shade on the
edges of Rod Laver Arena.
"It was so hot -- on the court it's very, very hot," said
Sharapova. "I just try to concentrate on what I have to do ...
block it out. But it was one of the toughest [matches] of my
life."
Kuznetsova finished with 53 unforced errors and got less than
half of her first serves into play, giving Sharapova plenty of
chances to pounce on second serves.
"It was just terrible," Kuznetsova said. "I was very focused
and I play very well first set. And after something happened, so I
just stopped. I mean, like my body was there, but my mind wasn't
there at all. It was just, I don't know, ball boy playing out
there."
Sharapova seemed to be struggling the most, leaning on her
racket and hanging her head, then coming out to try to convert the
heat into steam in her shots. Kuznetsova often found herself
waiting to serve while Sharapova slowly made her way to return.
People in the crowd used fans, towels and caps to keep the sun
at bay.