Sharapova glides over difficult terrain to reach semi-finals

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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova's transformation from a player who once said she felt like "a cow on ice" when competing on clay to a major contender for the French Open is all but complete. The 24-year-old Russian, who secured her first title for a year when she won on clay in Rome last month, reached the semi-finals here yesterday with a crushing 6-0, 6-3 victory over Germany's Andrea Petkovic.

Sharapova will attempt to reach her first Roland Garros final this afternoon at the expense of Li Na, who beat Victoria Azarenka, the highest ranked player left in the competition, 7-5, 6-2. Francesca Schiavone, the defending champion, faces France's Marion Bartoli in the other semi-final.

Petkovic, 23, is one of the game's rising talents and beat Sharapova to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final in Melbourne this year. However, the world No 12 was blown away by a sensational start from Sharapova, who won the first eight games without reply. Petkovic, showing great spirit, levelled the second set at 3-3 before Sharapova resumed control.

Although she has not won a Grand Slam title since the 2008 Australian Open, Sharapova needs only the title here to complete her collection of major honours. She has reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros once before, when she took just three games off Ana Ivanovic four years ago.

"I've improved on this surface," Sharapova said. "There's no doubt as the years went on that I felt better and better. Towards the end of the clay season I would always feel: 'Oh, I'm feeling good. I actually want to play more tournaments.' It's a pretty short season. We only play a few events. I feel like I've physically overcome many challenges that maybe a few years ago would have been tough for me."

It has taken Sharapova the best part of three years to recover from shoulder surgery and it is no coincidence that her return to form has come with her improved fitness. "I feel like I'm making adjustments in the match situations, but I'm also playing a lot by instinct," she said. "I think playing a lot of matches has helped me. I've said from the beginning of this year that it will be really important for me to play a lot of matches and stay healthy."

After the departures of Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters, Azarenka was the favourite to win the title here, but once again the 21-year-old from Belarus disappointed on the biggest stage. The world No 4, who has now lost in all four of her Grand Slam quarter-finals, was outplayed by Li, who was runner-up at the Australian Open. The 29-year-old Chinese had never gone beyond the fourth round here and said she had never previously believed she could play as well on clay.

Jamie Murray's hopes of adding the mixed doubles title here to the Wimbledon crown he won four years ago ended yesterday when the Scot and his partner, Nadia Petrova, were beaten 7-6, 7-6 in the semi-finals by the top seeds, Nenad Zimonjic and Katarina Srebotnik.

Oliver Golding, the last British junior in the singles competitions, reached the quarter-finals when he beat Marcos Giron 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, hitting eight aces along the way. He now faces another American, Bjorn Fratangelo.