TIANJIN, China -- Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova put on another banner performance at the Tianjin Open on Friday, as the Russian raced past Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele, 6-3, 6-1, to advance to the semifinals.
This is Sharapova's first semifinal appearance since her season debut in April, at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. In the semifinals, Sharapova will play No.3 seed Peng Shuai, the defending champion and hometown heroine. Peng blitzed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-0, 6-1, in less than an hour.
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"Obviously she really likes playing here and is the defending champion, so she feels really good about the court and the atmosphere," Sharapova said to the press, when asked about her upcoming match against Peng.
"We haven’t played in a long time and I know that it will be a tough match, just because it's the semifinals and when you get to the latter stages it's not getting easier," Sharapova continued. "She really likes playing here and is playing well, and I hope to rise to the occasion."
Sharapova, who received a wild card into the event, has not yet dropped a set this week, and was relatively unbothered during her first meeting with the World No.196. As in her earlier matches, her forehand was extremely solid and effective. Moreover, she won an incredible 85 percent of her first serve points.
Sharapova got off to an inauspicious start, as three unforced errors and a double fault handed Voegele a break lead in the opening game of the match. But Voegele quickly let Sharapova back on serve, double faulting down break point in the very next game.
Serving at 4-3, Voegele fended off triple break point, but a service return winner by Sharapova at deuce gave the Russian a fourth opportunity to break. Voegele double faulted down break point again to give away another of her service games, ceding command of the set to Sharapova.
The five-time Grand Slam champion then closed out the set with a love hold, which included her first two aces of the match. Sharapova won half of the points on Voegele's serve during the set, which propelled her to the two breaks needed to close it out.
There was very little drama in the second set. The momentum was firmly with Sharapova, and she claimed a break in the opening game of the set due to a series of thunderous forehands. The Russian broke again for 3-0, and held for 4-0 to complete a seven-game winning streak.
After Voegele finally got on the board for 4-1, the Swiss player put pressure on Sharapova, returning effectively to give her double break point. But Sharapova escaped both of those chances, and closed out the game on her first opportunity with a wonderful backhand winner.
That would be the last chance for Voegele to grab a foothold in the quarterfinal battle. Her eighth double fault of the encounter gave Sharapova triple match point, and a forehand winner in the forecourt sealed the victory for the Russian star in 64 minutes.
Meanwhile, in an earlier quarterfinal, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus notched her third consecutive win over a Chinese player this week by defeating Zhu Lin, 6-3, 6-4. The 19-year-old took out Han Xinyun and Duan Ying-Ying in the previous rounds, both times with 6-3, 6-3 scorelines.
Sabalenka will take on qualifier Sara Errani in the semifinals. The Italian staged a massive comeback against American Christina McHale, triumphing 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-1, after McHale served for the match at 7-5, 6-5. Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up (l. Sharapova) is playing her first event since the Citi Open over two months ago.