PARIS, France - Maria Sharapova hasn't just coasted back to the top of the game, she has worked for it, in more ways than one. And one of those ways was on full display Wednesday, as the World No.2 rebounded from a messy fourth round win and played almost flawlessly in the quarterfinals, easing past Kaia Kanepi in straight sets to reach her third French Open semifinal.
Sharapova's fourth round win over Klara Zakopalova was a struggle - she hit 12 double faults, got broken nine times and converted on just 12 of 31 break points, battling more than three hours to win. But it was a totally different story in the quarters, as the No.2-seeded Russian hit just four double faults and cruised past dangerous No.23 seed Kanepi in an hour and 14 minutes, 62 63.
"Maria was attacking all the time - I didn't have much time to do my shots," Kanepi said. "She was also putting a lot of pressure on my serve - it's not very comfortable to serve against her because you know you have to serve well."
"After a tough match in the previous round, I really wanted to improve some things in this match, and I'm happy how I did that," Sharapova said. "It was really important today because Kaia is someone who always competes and plays really well, against top players especially. She has that extra motivation.
"The return is particularly important against her because she can serve very well, she has a big first serve. I think that was a big key today."
This will be Sharapova's third French Open semifinal, her first two coming in 2007 (losing to Ana Ivanovic) and the second coming last year (losing to Li Na). But there's more at stake this time - if she reaches the final she will be No.1 again, and if she wins the title she completes a career Grand Slam.
Sharapova's next opponent will be No.4 seed Petra Kvitova, who advanced later in the day. Sharapova leads the head-to-head against Kvitova, 3-2, and also won their only previous clay court meeting, at Stuttgart this past April.
"It's nice to be in this position again. It's my third time in the semifinals here," Sharapova said. "Petra's an extremely tough opponent, someone I have had good success against in our last couple of meetings, but they're always tough matches. The last one in Stuttgart was a tough two-setter for me - she had opportunities in that second set and when she's confident, she's dangerous.
"It's going to be another level. I hope I can raise my level, as well."
Kanepi is now 0-4 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, her first three coming at the French Open in 2008 (losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova) and Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010 (losing to Petra Kvitova and Vera Zvonareva).
"It's unfortunate I didn't stay that long on the court, because I enjoyed being there," Kanepi continued. "I was a little nervous in the beginning and it took some time to get used to everything. Also her shots were flying so hard.
"I think Maria can win the tournament. Of course anyone who is in the semis has a chance, but she's playing so well and is in very good form right now."