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Sharapova, Li advance to Australian Open semis

MELBOURNE, Australia – Maria Sharapova continued her dominating form at the Australian Open with a straight-set win over Ekatrina Makarova on Tuesday, conceding only nine games in five matches en route to a semifinal against Li Na.

No. 2-ranked Sharapova had a 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over fellow Russian Makarova on Rod Laver Arena and has spent just 5 hours, 15 minutes on court so far in the tournament. That’s an unprecedented run in Australia.

“To be honest, those are not the stats you want to be known for,” Sharapova said, adding that she was more concerned about adding to her four Grand Slam titles and had spent plenty of time on the practice court.

After opening with pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins, Sharapova trounced seven-time major winner Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in the third round and Belgian Kristen Flipkens 6-0, 6-1 in the fourth. Nobody has conceded fewer games on the way to the semifinals at the Australian Open.

Sharapova lost in the final here last year before winning the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam of the majors.

She is playing her first tournament of the 2013, after withdrawing from the Brisbane International earlier this month with a sore right collarbone. She hasn’t shown any signs of injury so far at Melbourne Park. It was the second year in succession that Makarova has lost to Sharapova after knocking out a seeded player in the third round. Last year, she ousted Serena Williams in the fourth round, on the weekend it was No. 5-ranked Angelique Kerber.

Sixth-seeded Li didn’t overly tax herself, either, in the quarterfinals.

The 30-year-old Li advanced to her third semifinal in four years at Melbourne Park with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska, ending the Pole’s 13-match winning streak.

“She’s a tough player. I was feeling today against a wall,” said Li, who lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters only months before her Grand Slam breakthrough at the French Open.

The quarterfinals on the other half of the women’s draw will be Wednesday, with American teenager Sloane Stephens against Serena Williams, who is aiming for a third consecutive major title, and defending champion Victoria Azarenka against two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The first man through to the semifinals at Melbourne Park had a difficult time.

Three times in the first four sets Tuesday, David Ferrer faced the prospect of being ousted by a fellow Spaniard who’d never beaten him in a dozen competitive matches.

The No. 4-seeded Ferrer survived once in the third set and twice in the fourth when No. 10 Nicolas Almagro was serving for the match, but held firm and finally advanced to his fourth semifinal in six Grand Slam events with a 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win on Tuesday.

“It was (a) miracle I won this match, I think,” Ferrer said. “I tried to fight every point, that’s my game. I always fight.”

Almagro dominated the first two sets and was serving for the match in the third when Ferrer bounced back, breaking in the crucial 10th game and then breaking his Davis Cup teammate again.

The fourth set featured eight service breaks, and Ferrer finally took control in a tiebreaker to force a fifth set.

Almagro has played 33 consecutive majors, but never reached a semifinal. This was his first Grand Slam quarterfinal on any surface other than clay – he reached three quarterfinals at the French – and he really took the match to Ferrer, the leading Spaniard in the tournament with the absence of 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal.

Almagro hurt his upper left leg late in the fourth set and needed a medical timeout before the fifth. After holding serve in a long game to open the fifth set, he quickly wilted after the first break.

On the last point, he hit a service return back into play and had already started strolling to the net as Ferrer prepared to hit the winner.

As he left the court, he gave his compatriot a friendly pat on the back as Ferrer packed his bag on the courtside chairs, then left Rod Laver Arena.

“In the important moments, I played more consistent in my game,” Ferrer said. “Of course, in the next round, the semifinals, I need to play my best tennis, better than today.”

He will next play either Novak Djokovic, who is bidding for a third consecutive Australian title – unprecedented in the Open era – or No. 5 Tomas Berdych. Ferrer has played four semifinals in Grand Slams and lost them all.

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