Sharapova reaches Sony Open final for 5th time

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Maria Sharapova, of Russia, returns to Jelena Jankovic, of Serbia, during the semifinals of the Sony Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Thursday, March 28, 2013. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-1. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida–Four-time runner-up Maria Sharapova advanced to another Key Biscayne final by beating Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-1 on Thursday at the Sony Open, while Andy Murray reached the semifinals of the men’s event.

With a victory Saturday, the No. 3-seeded Sharapova would plug one of the few holes in her resume. She completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open last year but has never won the tournament near downtown Miami.

“It would mean so much to me,” the Russian said. “I absolutely love this city. It’s the first city I landed in when I came to the United States as a little girl.”

Sharapova will face the winner of Thursday night’s match between five-time champion Serena Williams and defending champ Agnieszka Radwanska.

Murray, the 2009 champion and runner-up last year, advanced by beating No. 9 Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3. Murray has yet to drop a set, and his path is made easier because Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipped the tournament, and Novak Djokovic lost in the fourth round.

“Obviously if they aren’t there, then you don’t have to play against two or three of the best players that have played the game,” Murray said. “So it’s not as challenging. I always enjoy playing against them because it’s good for me. It’s a good test of my game.”

Murray’s opponent Friday night will No. 8-seeded Richard Gasquet, who beat No. 4 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3. The other semifinal will match No. 3 David Ferrer against 34-year-old Tommy Haas, who upset Djokovic.

On a sunny, mild afternoon, Sharapova won seven consecutive games during one stretch against the No. 22-seeded Jankovic. Sharapova committed only 10 unforced errors from the baseline in 88 points while breaking serve six times.

Sharapova took the Indian Wells title two weeks ago and has won 22 consecutive sets, a career best, while winning 11 matches in a row. But she endured a sloppy quarterfinal against Sara Errani, winning despite 57 unforced errors, including 13 double-faults.

She double-faulted only three times against Jankovic and won 23 of 25 points on her first serve.

“I just really thought I needed to step it up from my last match and play a little better,” she said. “I was really happy with the way I focused.”

Jankovic, playing for the second time in less than 18 hours, was repeatedly a step late trying to reach Sharapova’s shots.

“I wasn’t moving,” she said. “I felt heavy on the court. I felt really tired and exhausted.”

Jankovic questioned scheduling that forced her to play in consecutive sessions while Williams and Radwanska had a day off before the semifinals.

“Kind of crazy,” she said. “I had a couple of hours of sleep, and then I had to be back on the court.”

Sharapova looked fresh even though she has played a lot of tennis lately. She’s bidding to become the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne in the same year.

Steffi Graf did it in 1994 and 1996, and Kim Clijsters won both in 2005.

“Winning a title on its own, whether it’s here or Indian Wells, is a great achievement,” Sharapova said. “To be able to come back from that and recover in just a few days and come back to the final here, it’s great. Physically, many years ago I wouldn’t be able to do that, so I’m very proud of the way I have recovered.”

Sharapova has lost the Key Biscayne final to four different players — Clijsters in 2005, Svetlana Kuznetsova in ’06, Victoria Azarenka in ’11 and Radwanska last year.

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