Maria survives Chinese caper

Moves into semis after edging out Li Na in a thriller; the Russian is now favourite to clinch her first Spanish title

Madrid: Maria Sharapova beats Li Na to book her place in the last four of the Madrid Open as top seed and reigning champion Serena Williams pulled out of the tournament on Friday.Williams was due to face Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals but pulled out due to a thigh injury she had been carrying since sweeping aside Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in the first round on Sunday.

“I have a left thigh injury and, unfortunately, have to withdraw from this year’s Madrid Open,” said Williams.”It happened during my first round match. It started to get better, but most importantly right now, I just need some time to rest and recover.

“It’s beyond words. It’s so frustrating.”However, the American insisted that she will try to defend her title at the Internazionale BNL D’Italia in Rome next week.”I am planning to play in Rome. Fortunately, I have a bye next week so will have an extra day of rest.”For now, I will take it one day at a time and take advantage of some extra rest.”

Sharapova has been beaten by Williams in Madrid in the last two years, including in the 2013 final, and the Russian is now the favourite to clinch her first title in the Spanish capital as she edged a thrilling match against second seed Li 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3. Li looked on course for the semi-finals when she broke to lead 4-3 in the second set.

However, Sharapova broke back immediately and, despite needing four set points, finally forced the match into a deciding set when Li netted at 5-6 down in the tie-break.There were three breaks of serve to open the third set, but Sharapova took control when she finally consolidated the break at 3-1 and was gifted the final game when Li double faulted on match point.

The four-time Grand Slam champion will face third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals on Saturday.Agnieszka Radwanska saved three match points in a row before edging out Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tense final-set tie-break in the second round. The Pole dominated the first set, breaking Kuznetsova in her first two service games before going on to claim the opener 6-3.
Both women faltered on serve in the second, with seven of the 10 games being breaks and Kuznetsova the one to come out on top 6-4.

That theme continued in the third set but this time the pair couldn’t be separated and a tie-break was needed.It looked as if Kuznetsova would be causing an upset when she moved 6-3 in front, but Radwanska then rattled off five points in a row to clinch victory. AFP

She is next up against Italy’s Roberta Vince in round three.Earlier, Russian ace Maria Sharapova joined Chinese star Li Na in moving into the third round following their respective second round wins on Tuesday.

Sharapova, who won her first tournament of the season on her return to clay in Stuttgart two weeks ago, reeled off five straight games to beat world number 57 Christina McHale from USA 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in fine form.

Meanwhile, Australian Open champion Li had a more simple task as she swept aside fellow Chinese Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-3 and she will face 16th seed Sloane Stephens, who defeated Czech Petra Cetkovska, in the next round, the report added.

Nadal reaches top 4

MADRID: Defending champion Rafael Nadal gave his clay-court doldrums a boost by reaching the Madrid Open semifinals on Friday with a dominant performance against Thomas Berdych. Nadal had lost his previous two quarterfinal matches on clay for his worst run on the surface in a decade. But buoyed on by a partisan crowd, Nadal overpowered Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to advance at the Magic Box. “I brought great energy and intensity to it and that´s the best news, that it´s my best (on clay) yet,” Nadal said. “The things that, historically, I´ve done well on this surface I managed to do them again today.”

Nadal has been improving with every match in Madrid after losing at the quarterfinals stage in preceding tournaments in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. But he showed no sign of the nerves that had uncharacteristically crept into the game of the most successful clay-court player ever as he pushed Berdych to the corners and punished him with a powerful forehand that accounted for 16 of his winners. “My play is good when I´m hitting my forehand well, especially on clay,” said Nadal, who is vying for his third title in the Spanish capital. “In Monte Carlo I used my backhand more and not my forehand, and when I have to hit five or six backhands in a row it doesn´t help my game.”Berdych, who dropped to 3-18 against Nadal, couldn´t keep up in the hot sun beating down on Manolo Santana center court. AFP

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