Sharapova marches into final

Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon women's champion, advanced to the Japan Open final in Tokyo yesterday with a convincing 6-2, 6-3 victory over Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn.

Sharapova dropped the first two games in the first set but quickly recovered to win the next six and overpower Tanasugarn at Ariake Colosseum.

"I got off to a slow start. I didn't have a proper warm-up and she broke my serve right away," said the 17-year-old Russian, who won last week's Korea Open. "I made a double fault, but started to serve better as the match went on and was able to return well, and that was the key," she added.

Sharapova will face American Mashona Washington in today's final. Washington posted a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over the seventh seed Klara Koukalova, of the Czech Republic.

Lleyton Hewitt, the top seed, defeated France's Cyril Saulnier 7-5, 6-1 to set up a men's semi-final with the fifth-seeded Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic, who beat Thailand's Paradorn Srichapan 6-4, 6-4.

Hewitt, who won the Japan Open in 2001, had his hands full in the first set, but took control in the second when he capitalised on two double-faults to break Saulnier twice.

Saulnier, who defeated Sweden's Thomas Johansson in the third round, looked tired in the second set and was unable to keep up with the Australian. "It took me a few games to get on to his serve," said Hewitt. "As the match went on, I was able to put pressure on him and the double-faults started to come."

Saulnier, who hit four aces in the first set, double-faulted in the fourth game of the second set when Hewitt took a 3-1 lead. He double-faulted again in the sixth game before Hewitt won the match with his ninth ace.

In other men's matches, unseeded Bohdan Ulihrach, of the Czech Republic, defeated Germany's Bjorn Phau 7-5, 6-4 and will take on American Taylor Dent in the other semi-final. Dent, seeded seventh, was a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 winner over Gilles Müller of Luxembourg.

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