Sharapova reaches women’s final again


She’ll bid for her third Grand Slam singles title Saturday.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Maria Sharapova just keeps getting better at the Australian Open.

Two days after ending top-ranked Justine Henin’s 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals, Sharapova outclassed Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday to advance to the final Saturday and a bid for her third Grand Slam singles title.

Sharapova, who lost in the final last year to Serena Williams, will play the winner of Thursday’s second semifinal between another Serbian player, Ana Ivanovic, and Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.

It’s the second time in four majors that the Serbian duo has made it to the semis, repeating their run in the last French Open.

The 20-year-old Sharapova, who hasn’t dropped a set in six matches at Melbourne Park this year, won her first major at Wimbledon in 2004, then added the U.S. Open title in 2006.

She led 5-0 in the opening set before No. 3 Jankovic came back with two service breaks to pull to 5-3. But Sharapova clinched it on her sixth set point when an attempted drop shot was ripped back across the net and past a stretching Jankovic.

“I had a bit of a letdown, I was too good for my own level,” Sharapova said of her first-set lapse. “But I’m really happy to get back in the final.”

Sharapova broke Jankovic’s serve to open the second set, after which the Serbian player received treatment for an apparent back strain. Trailing 3-0, Jankovic again had treatment, laying outstretched on a towel while a physiotherapist massaged her lower back area.

Looking increasingly as if she was playing with pain, Jankovic had trouble getting to several balls and Sharapova won the match when Jankovic hit a backhand wide.

The start of the match was delayed for about 10 minutes when rain began falling in the warmup, forcing organizers to close the roof at Rod Laver Arena.

Wednesday, Roger Federer talked about the tension and nerves players feel before a Grand Slam semifinal, and with good authority — Friday he will play in his 15th in a row.

But while it might reassure Novak Djokovic to hear that the man he’ll be facing in his first Australian Open semifinal experiences some nerves too, he’d better be wary of the rhetoric.

“I remember when I made my first Grand Slam semifinals or my finals, I was so nervous,” Federer said in an almost confiding tone, after beating James Blake 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4. “Now it’s been so many that it’s almost become some sort of a routine. That’s helped me a great deal being able to cope with those moments.”

Federer has a brilliant conversion rate, reaching the last 10 Grand Slam finals and winning 12 of the last 18 dating to his first at Wimbledon in 2003.

The momentum and experience gives Federer the edge, he says: “Maybe they blink a little bit in those important moments, whereas maybe usually they wouldn’t.”

At 26, Federer is the oldest of the men’s semifinalists, and will meet the youngest in 20-year-old Djokovic on Friday. The third-ranked Djokovic beat No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to complete a run to the semifinals at all four majors.

Rafael Nadal, who will play unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal, is the longest-serving No. 2 in tennis history, and he’s only 21. Nadal knows something about catching Federer on a bad day in a Grand Slam, though, after beating the Swiss star in the last two French Open finals.

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