Sharapova reaches semis
Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova rallied to defeat Ukranian Alona Bondarenko 6-7 (9/11), 6-3, 6-2 in a Friday quarterfinal at the WTA Bausch and Lomb Championship.
Top seed Sharapova advanced to a Saturday semifinal at the 600,000-dollar clay court event against US veteran Lindsay Davenport, who eliminated Hungarian eighth seed Agnes Szavay 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
Russian beauty Sharapova, who turns 21 on April 19, has never reached a clay court final in her career but would with a victory Saturday that would also give her a chance to play for the 95,500-dollar top prize.
French teen Alize Cornet, ranked 49th in the world, beat 27th-ranked compatriot Virginie Razzano 6-4, 6-2 to book a spot in the other semifinal against Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova, who defeated 2001 winner Amelie Mauresmo of France 6-1, 7-6 (8/6).
Davenport has lost five of six matches against Sharapova, most recently at Melbourne where Sharapova defeated the new mum 6-1, 6-3 on the way to her third major title.
Sharapova improved to 21-1 on the season despite squandering three set points in the opening-set tie-breaker, eventually surrendering the set by netting a forehand, her 27th unforced error.
"Considering a couple of those set points I had, it should have been over in two sets," Sharapova said. "I was really tentative when I had those set points. Somehow I scrambled my way out of it in the second. She looked like she was getting a little tired."
Bondarenko, who broke Sharapova in the second game of the match, could not the close the upset, however.
Sharapova smacked a forehand winner to claim the second set and broke Bondarenko in the third and fifth games of the final set on her way to a 5-1 lead before closing out the match with a service winner.
"I was pretty impressed with the way I mentally hung in there," Sharapova said. "I could easily have let it go in the second set with the way I let the first set get away."
Bondarenko dropped her only previous match against Sharapova in three sets last month at Indian Wells.
Sharapova skipped the previous event in Miami after complaining of fatigue following a semifinal loss at Indian Wells to Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova that ended an 18-match win streak.
Sharapova calls the clay surface her biggest challenge and said she is working as much to prepare for the French Open next month as she is to win another title.
"I would have loved to have finished this match off as quickly as I can. But I'm here to learn," Sharapova said. "I want to get as many matches in as I can before the French."
Davenport, 31, has won two titles in 2008 and enters the quarterfinals with a 20-4 record this year. She seeks her fourth Amelia Island crown after crowns in 1997, 2004 and 2005. She has a 33-5 record here with seven semifinal trips.
Szavay, ranked a career-best 15th, has never faced Sharapova before.
"Either one is going to be tough," Sharapova said. "I'm just glad I gave myself another opportunity."