Sharapova sets up Serena showdown

Rivalry will be renewed in the semi-finals of the Brisbane International as Russian takes on the defending champion.

    Sharapova sets up Serena showdown
    Serena Williams cruised past Slovakian Dominkia Cibulkova 6-3 6-3 in 61 minutes [AFP]

    Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are set to renew their long and not-so-friendly rivalry after advancing to a semi-final match at the Brisbane International, a key warm up tournament for the Australian Open.

    The pair played back-to-back quarter-finals on centre court Thursday, with third-seeded Sharapova needing two hours to beat 2012 Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. She dropped three service games in the first set and another to open the second before finding her range and staging her comeback against the No. 30-ranked Kanepi.

    Top-ranked Williams, the defending champion, was next on court and didn't lose a point on serve in the first set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win over ninth-seeded Diminika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

    Williams has a 14-2 record and 13-match win streak against Sharapova, beating the Russian most recently in last year's French Open final.

    Any friendship the pair had soured when they traded personal barbs relating to their romantic relationships ahead of last year's Wimbledon, where Sharapova made an early exit. She only played one match after that in 2013 and spent the latter months of the year recovering from a right shoulder problem.

    Sharapova has only played two matches since August, both this week. Williams had a spectacular year, meanwhile, winning 78 of her 82 matches and capturing 11 titles, including two majors to increase her career total to 17.

    Competitive relationship

    As far as any grudges go, Williams told a news conference Thursday:

    It's very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you're so competitive. But I don't have a problem with anyone

    Serena Williams,

    "It's very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you're so competitive.''

    "But I don't have a problem with anyone,'' she said.

    "I don't take jabs or anything. I am who I am and I don't hide anything.''

    Sharapova didn't back away from her comments at Wimbledon in a New York Times profile last month, giving the impression that her relationship with Williams was still cold. On Thursday, she said she'd used the newspaper interview to "clear the air.''

    Asked how she'd describe their rivalry now, Sharapova replied: "Well, I think I got to win a few times in order to call it rivalry.''

    "I haven't had a lot of success against her in the past,'' she added.

    "It's the first tournament of the year. I came here wanting to play as many matches as I could and obviously wanting to play the best.

    "There is no substitute for getting ready for a Grand Slam than competing against the best.''

    In men's matches in Brisbane, Romanian qualifier Marius Copil had a 7-5, 6-3 upset win over third-seeded Gilles Simon and No. 8-seeded Jeremy Chardy beat fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3.

    Hopman Cup

    In other Australasian tournaments, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard combined to give Canada a 3-0 win over Italy at the Hopman Cup in Perth, and former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic progressed to the semi-finals at the WTA Tour's ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.

    Canada maintained a chance of qualifying for Saturday's final from Group A when Raonic beat Andreas Seppi 6-2, 6-4 and Bouchard won the second singles match when Flavia Pennetta retired with a right wrist injury while trailing 4-0 in the first set.

    Bouchard, voted the WTA newcomer of the year in 2013, has won two of her three singles matches in the group stage.

    At Auckland, Ivanovic defeated Japan's Kurumi Nara 6-2, 6-3 to set up a semi-final match against Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens, a 6-4, 7-5 winner over Japan's Sachie Ishizu.

    American Jamie Hampton also advanced with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over compatriot Lauren Davis.

    Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams plays her quarterfinal match against Spaniard Garbine Muguruza later Thursday.



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