Sharapova dominates, Ivanovic rallies to set up Aussie final

1/24/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Maria Sharapova overwhelmed one
Serbian player in the semifinals and will face another for the
Australian Open championship.

Sharapova followed her quarterfinal rout of No. 1-ranked Justine
Henin with a 6-3, 6-1 semifinal win over third-seeded Jelena
Jankovic on Thursday.

No. 4 Ana Ivanovic rallied to ensure one of the two Serbians
advanced from the semifinals, despite losing the first eight games
to Daniela Hantuchova.

She recovered the early break in the second set and then, after
saving break points in a 10-minute game that went to deuce seven
times, got another crucial break in the third.

Hantuchova dumped a routine volley into the net on break point
in the ninth game of the deciding set to give Ivanovic, who had
scrambled to stay in the point, a chance to serve for the match.

She won it 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 2-hours, 10-minutes when Hantuchova
put a forehand into the net on match point.

Hantuchova was disappointed at her defeat but also hit out
at Ivanovic, saying the way she shuffled her feet before the
server hits the ball, which results in loud squeaking, was
off-putting and unfair.

"That was ridiculous, I think," Hantuchova said.

"I was really surprised with that. I think it's unfair.
It's a distraction to the server. We played before and she
never did it."

Hantuchova said she had complained to umpire Alison Lang.

"In the first or second service game [she told the umpire],
but she didn't do anything about it. I don't think that [the
squeaking] was very nice."

Hantuchova gave Ivanovic little more than a cursory
handshake at the end, having thought the Serbian had not got to
the ball on the first bounce on the point that gave the fourth
seed the vital break in the final set.

But the Slovakian, appearing in her first grand slam
semifinal, said she was just disappointed with her defeat.

"It's just tough, tough to accept that you lose. So I just
wanted to get off the court as soon as possible.

"I thought it was a double bounce, but maybe it was just my
mistake. I should have played the point anyway."

Despite the defeat, Hantuchova said her run to the last
four promised much for the rest of the year.

"In the days to come, I think I will go back and look at
the tournament as a very positive thing," she said.

"I proved once again, to myself, that if I play my game I
can beat anybody. It's just a matter of doing it for the whole

Sharapova was more convincing.

Two days after ending Henin's 32-match winning streak, she
outclassed Jankovic to advance to the final Saturday and a bid for
her third Grand Slam singles title.

Sharapova is using the humbling 6-1, 6-2 loss to Serena Williams
in last year's Australian final as motivation this time.

"You have your bad moments in your career and you have your
good moments, and it's been a good ride so far," she said. "But
it's not over yet.

"In a Grand Slam where I've had good success but some tough
endings, I still believe at the end I'll always have more

The 20-year-old Sharapova, who hasn't dropped a set in six
matches at Melbourne Park this year, won her first major at
Wimbledon in 2004, then added the U.S. Open title in 2006.

She led 5-0 in the first before Jankovic fended off three set
points to hold her first game, earning a big cheer from a crowd
that had been stunned by Sharapova's early domination.

She broke Sharapova in the next game, aided by a pair of
double-faults from the Russian, then saved two more set points in
the next game to pull within 5-3.

Sharapova, her high-pitched grunts sounding more like shrieks,
pounded the ball even harder, smacking an ace to set up her sixth
set point, then getting to a drop shot for a clean winner. She made
up for getting only 46 percent of her first serves in during the
set by hitting 20 winners to just three for Jankovic.

"I had a bit of a letdown, I was too good for my own level,"
Sharapova said of her first-set lapse. "But I'm really happy to
get back in the final."

Sharapova broke Jankovic's serve to open the second set, when
the Serbian player received treatment for an apparent back strain.
Trailing 3-0, Jankovic again had treatment, laying outstretched on
a towel while a physiotherapist massaged her lower back area.

"I wanted to withdraw, but it was a semifinal," Jankovic said.

The start of the match was delayed for about 10 minutes when
rain began falling in the warmup, forcing organizers to close the
roof at Rod Laver Arena.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.