MELBOURNE— Maria Sharapova set up an Australian Open showdown with China’s Li Na Tuesday as she roared into the semi-finals for the record loss of only nine games.
The world number two swamped her latest victim, fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2 in a quickfire 1hr 6min, continuing her blistering start to the season.
Sharapova was forced to pull out of her warm-up tournament with injury, hitting up with Australian junior boys instead, but she has been remorseless in her rampage to the last four at Melbourne Park.
Her record of losing just nine games in five matches obliterates the 22-year-old tournament record of Monica Seles, who dropped 12 en route to the 1991 semi-finals.
Despite the scoreline, the four-time Grand Slam-winner insisted it had been close against Makarova, against whom she has never lost in five matches.
“No matter what our record is, we always have close matches,” she said.
“It was quite close in the beginning today, we exchanged breaks of serves, but I think I ended up being the more aggressive player.
“Today was a matter of staying focused because I know how excited she was to play me.”
However, Sharapova, 25, will face her sternest test yet against China’s Li, who halted the 13-match unbeaten run of Agnieszka Radwanska to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final since she won the 2011 French Open.
Li, the world number six, became the first player this year to take a set off off the Polish fourth seed when she edged a tight opener containing seven breaks of serve.
Radwanska came storming back by winning eight points in a row to take the first two games of the second set to love. But Li then rattled off five straight games before serving it out for a 7-5, 6-3 win.
“She’s a tough player. I felt like I was against a wall today. She can hit everywhere, but without any mistakes,” said Li.
“I felt it was just very tough. You have to focus on every shot. Not every point, every shot. If you hit like slow or like short one, she’ll attack.”
Meanwhile David Ferrer clawed back from two sets down after his fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro blew a golden chance to reach his first major semi-final in 34 attempts.
Tenth seed Almagro outplayed the world number five, whom he has never beaten, in the opening two sets and served for the match three times, only to falter on each occasion.
Ferrer seized the lifeline and finished too strongly for his Davis Cup team-mate, clinching it with two service breaks in the fifth set as he won 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in 3hr 44min.
“It was a miracle that I won this match. Nicolas had a lot of chances to beat me and I tried to fight for every point,” Ferrer said.
“I know all the players in important moments are nervous. Today I was close to losing, but finally I come back.”
Ferrer will now take on the winner of the quarter-final between defending champion Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych, who contest the evening match.