Sharapova Cruises Into QFs, Azarenka Awaits

Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic made the final eight.

Published May 12, 2011 12:00

Sharapova Cruises Into QFs, Azarenka Awaits
Maria Sharapova

ROME, Italy - Maria Sharapova took one step closer to her third semifinal in Rome on Thursday, cruising past Shahar Peer in the third round, 62 62.

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Sharapova had beaten Peer in all four of their previous meetings, all those on hardcourts - but clay didn't seem to diffuse any of the No.7 seed's power at the Foro Italico as she cruised past the No.10 seed in an hour and 10 minutes.

"I had a little bit of a slow start," said Sharapova, who lost the first two games of the match but took nine in a row to establish a 62 30 lead. "I was able to raise my level and find a good rhythm and play better as the match went on."

A semifinalist the last two times she has played the event in 2005 and 2008, Sharapova is feeling better and better going into the only major she hasn't won, the French. "For me it's about getting as many matches as I can going into the French Open," the 24-year-old Russian said. "I had a few three-setters in Madrid, which hurt me in the last match I played there, but I'm happy I've been able to win here without losing a set so far. I'm feeling confident right now."

And on the vibrant crowds? "The fans are very excited to see tennis here! It was a bit of a smaller stadium today. I could really feel the energy."

Next for Sharapova is No.3 seed Victoria Azarenka, who lost the second set but showed strong fitness to cruise in the third and beat No.16 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 64 46 62. Azarenka has won 22 of her last 25 matches.

"Anastasia's in good form and gave me a tough battle," Azarenka said after the match. "I was hitting a lot of unforced errors today but I'm glad I managed to step it up and fight through. I'm always trying to improve my game on clay and I'm looking forward to another tough match against Maria tomorrow."

Azarenka leads Sharapova in their head-to-head series, 3-2, and has won their last two in straight sets, including in the final of Miami six weeks ago.

Current No.1 Caroline Wozniacki and former No.1 Jelena Jankovic also set up a blockbuster quarterfinal clash. Wozniacki, the No.1 seed, was two points from losing the second set at 4-5 and 5-6 but managed to close out Yanina Wickmayer, 61 76(4); Jankovic, seeded No.5, won a two-hour, 45-minute war with Anabel Medina Garrigues, 64 26 62, one final burst at the very end sealing the deal - from 3-2 and deuce, she won 10 of the last 11 points.

"It was a great win for me today," Jankovic said. "My opponent is a great clay court player and was hitting the ball well, especially in that second set. I just fought from beginning to end and tried to stay as positive as I could. I managed to be a little stronger in the end and am happy I was able to pull the match out."

While Wozniacki has reached the quarterfinals here for the first time, Jankovic is a fixture in the late stages here - she has won this title twice (2007, 2008) and reached a third final here last year, taking out both Williams sisters en route.

"I always enjoy my time here. I've had a lot of success at this tournament in the past," Jankovic said. "It's a nice place to play tennis and there are a lot of fans, a lot of people cheering. It's just a great atmosphere and I really have fun here."

Jankovic leads Wozniacki in their head-to-head, 4-2, but Wozniacki has won both of their 2011 meetings, and in straight sets as well.

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