Maria Sharapova yesterday set an Australian Open record to advance to a semifinal against Li Na, who ended Agnieszka Radwanska’s perfect start to the tennis season.
Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic overcame a four-set challenge by Tomas Berdych. The top-seeded Serb will next play No. 4 David Ferrer, who came back from two sets down to make the final four in Melbourne for the second time.
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 semifinals 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,” Sharapova, 25, said in a news conference. “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.”
Three-time champion Djokovic beat Berdych of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to move to his 11th consecutive major semifinal. He’s not lost in Melbourne since 2010.
Today’s quarterfinals line-up includes defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus against Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova, while Serena Williams faces fellow American Sloane Stephens. France’s Jeremy Chardy meets Andy Murray of Britain, while Roger Federer of Switzerland plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, also from France.
Djokovic struggled in the previous round, needing more than five hours to overcome Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka in a fourth-round match that finished at 1:41 a.m. local time.
Against the fifth-seeded Berdych, Djokovic raced through the first set before the momentum shifted as he dropped his serve in the opening game of the second. After saving a set point at 5-3 down, Djokovic squandered four break points for 5- 5. Berdych, 27, recovered to take the set 6-4.
Djokovic, 25, took control of the match, winning the third and fourth sets as he improved his first-serve percentage and cut down on errors.
“It was a great performance, I was hoping to have a shorter match and not to go over five hours like the last match,” Djokovic said in a court-side interview after he won with his tenth ace. Djokovic, who said he’d taken lots of ice baths to speed up his recovery, produced 44 winners and 23 unforced errors, while Berdych had 29 winners and 42 mistakes.
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 quarterfinal 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 tomorrow for a place in the Jan. 26 final. Sharapova leads Li 8-4 in career meetings.
“I’ve beaten her the last few times that we’ve played, but they’ve always been really tough matches,” Sharapova added. “I certainly expect it in the next one. 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 semifinal.
Li, the 2011 runner-up at Melbourne Park, beat No. 4 Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena 12 days after losing to her in Sydney. She’s seeking her second major title after becoming the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles championship at Roland Garros two years ago.
“To win a Grand Slam, you have to win seven matches,” Li, 30, said in a news conference. “Before I thought, ‘If I win, who will I play in the fourth round or fifth round?’ Now I’ve changed a little bit. I didn’t look at the draw, I’m just taking it match by match.”
Poland’s Radwanska, 23, had tuned up for the season-opening major by winning back-to-back tournaments in Auckland and Sydney and hadn’t dropped a set in 2013 before the quarterfinals. She beat Li 6-3, 6-4 on her way to the Sydney title.
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 in 66 minutes by winning a 22-shot rally.
Li broke to love for a 4-2 lead in the second set and fought her way back from 15-40 down when serving for a place in the semifinals. She hit her ground strokes deep and hard to win four straight points, securing the victory when Radwanska hit a backhand long.
“Some of the games she didn’t let me do anything,” Radwanska told reporters. “Very deep balls all the time. Good serve. She was really playing good tennis.”
Ferrer, who tuned up for Melbourne Park by defending his Auckland title, scored his fourth career comeback from two-sets- to-love down to beat 10th-seeded Nicolas Almagro, who served for the match on three occasions and injured his thigh in the fourth-set tiebreaker.
Ferrer won 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena to lift his record against his fellow Spaniard to 13-0. Almagro served for the match in the 10th game of the third set and the 10th and 12th games of the fourth set only to be broken each time by Ferrer, his Davis Cup teammate.
“It was a miracle,” Ferrer, a semifinalist in Melbourne two years ago, said after winning 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.”
Djokovic is expecting a tough match against the 30-year-old Ferrer, who led the men’s tour with seven titles in 2012.
“David never gives up,” said Djokovic, who leads the Spaniard 9-5.
To contact the reporters on this story: Dan Baynes at Melbourne Park at firstname.lastname@example.org; Danielle Rossingh in London at email@example.com
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