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tennisIlove09
Jan 25th, 2005, 05:39 AM
Sharapova Conquers Kuznetsova To Reach Oz Open Final Four
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Photo By Susan Mullane By Tennis Week
01/25/2005

Maria Sharapova walked behind the baseline and stared at the back wall as if searching for the cool comfort of a cellar door to escape the sweltering conditions of this Australian Open quarterfinal. For one set, reigning U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and the sizzling sun diminished Sharapova’s star power.


In the end, the Wimbledon winner beat the oppressive heat and an opening-set onslaught from Kuznetsova in the process, fighting back for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 triumph in an all-Russian Australian Open quarterfinal.

On Thursday, the fourth-seeded Sharapova meets seventh-seeded Serena Williams for a spot in the final. The 2003 champion crushed second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, 6-2, 6-2. The semifinal match is a rematch of the Wimbleon and WTA Tour Championships finals, both won by Sharapova.

A record seven Russian women reached the round of 16 in Melbourne, but Sharapova — whose commitment to her home country has been questioned by compatriots Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva — remains the last Russian standing. And by the end of the 2 hour, 17-minute match, Sharapova was ready for a seat.

"I need a wheelchair now," Sharapova said. "I just tried to tough it out. It was so hot on the court, you know, and I just tried to forget about it and concentrate on what I was supposed to do. This is one of the toughest (matches) of my life. But there's always a first, right, so I got to start somewhere."

The fifth-seeded Kuznetsova carried an 11-match major win streak into the match, but succumbed to Sharapova’s stinging shots in committing 53 unforced errors.

Dropping the opening game of the second set, Sharapova won three straight games before extending her lead to 4-2 on a Kuznetsova backhand error. Holding serve, Sharapova then broke again to take the second set and level the match.

The pair took a 10-minute heat break before playing the decisive set. Taking her time before each serve, a methodical Sharapova surged to a 3-1 lead then dug down deep to fight off a break point and hold for 4-1. Kuznetsova committed a double fault to hand Sharapova match point and the 17-year-old from Siberia cracked a crosscourt forehand winner and scream after seizing her semifinal spot.