Sharapova digs deep to advance into semi-finals

The bare details of the two women's quarter-finals played yesterday are that Maria Sharapova beat Ai Sugiyama in three sets while Lindsay Davenport made swift work of dispatching Karolina Sprem, 6-2, 6-2. Sharapova, 17, and Davenport, 28, now face each other in tomorrow's semi-finals.

The bare details of the two women's quarter-finals played yesterday are that Maria Sharapova beat Ai Sugiyama in three sets while Lindsay Davenport made swift work of dispatching Karolina Sprem, 6-2, 6-2. Sharapova, 17, and Davenport, 28, now face each other in tomorrow's semi-finals.

Sharapova's Grand Slam semi-final debut will be the first time a Russian has reached the last four here since Anna Kournikova in 1997.

Davenport will be playing her 15th Grand Slam semi and her first here since 2001. The 6ft 2in American was the runner-up in 2000 and the winner here in 1999 in an era before the Williams sisters annexed the title. She said yesterday that this is likely to be the last Wimbledon of her injury-hit career.

The full story of Sharapova's victory yesterday would not be complete without the inclusion of the following bizarre vignette from her post-match press conference.

Questioner: "I saw James Brown sing at the weekend. I've seen you play tennis today."

Sharapova: "Who?"

Questioner: "James Brown, godfather of soul. You both punctuate your performances like 'hhh'. How do you determine which shots you grunt with?"

Sharapova: "I don't."

The point in repeating this encounter is not simply to highlight Sharapova's tender years, nor even the daft inquisitions that players sometimes face. One revealing aspect is that she dealt with it like she plays her best tennis. (Bosh. Now don't bother me again). Another is that the more big matches she wins, the greater the dissection of every aspect of her life, from her humble beginnings in Siberia to her off-court activities such as modelling to her simplest on-court mannerisms.

Thus far she is coping admirably, as she did in her match over Sugiyama, a contest in which she went a set down before ending in storming fashion, 5-7, 7-5, 6-1. She made a powerful start and lost only two points on serve in her first four service games. But Sugiyama refused to buckle, saving four break points in her opening two service games before gaining the breakthrough for a 6-5 lead. Sharapova surrendered the set in the next game after whipping a forehand wide.

Sugiyama then threatened to run away with the contest when Sharapova suddenly managed to break what to that point had been the impregnable Sugiyama serve on her eighth attempt to sneak ahead 4-2. Despite losing the advantage in the next game, Sharapova dug deep and refused to get overawed even when she wasted three set points in the 10th game.

Two games later, Sharapova shrieked in delight after levelling the contest on her fifth set point. Having had the upper hand for most of the first two sets, Sugiyama simply lost her battling instincts in the third. Those of Sharapova came to the fore and the match was effectively over.

"I had always wanted to play on Centre Court but I never thought about playing in the semi-finals here. It's just amazing," Sharapova said. "After all the sacrifices, this is just great."

In what will almost certainly be her last Wimbledon, Davenport will not be an easy opponent. A second title here is a special incentive and it seemed to provide inspiration as she thrashed Sprem, the 19-year-old Croatian.

Davenport, who has struggled with injuries in recent times, married last year and although she has not decided officially to retire at the end of this season, it seems likely.

"There's probably a good chance that's the case but nothing definitive," the fifth seed said. "I plan in my mind to, no matter what, play out this year and then go over it in my mind again.

"It's a factor of a lot of things. I still love to play tennis and I treat it very seriously but there is no question that marriage and everything else is a higher priority.

"It just gets harder and harder to go away for weeks on end. Most importantly, injuries curtail the excitement that there is to play.

"Some days when you aren't really all that eager to go practise, it just becomes harder and harder to do and more tedious.

"I have not set a definitive timetable... but as you get older, I'm 28 now, I don't foresee myself playing many more tournaments." Unlike Sharapova.

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