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Serena Williams vs Sharapova in Sony Open final

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Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. AP

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida–Maria Sharapova keeps drawing a different opponent in the Key Biscayne final, and has yet to find one she can beat.

Now she’ll give it a try against Serena Williams.

Sharapova, a four-time runner-up, earned another berth in the final by beating Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-1 Thursday at the Sony Open. Eight hours later, five-time champion Williams advanced when she beat defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-3.

Sharapova has lost the Key Biscayne final to four different players — Kim Clijsters in 2005, Svetlana Kuznetsova in ’06, Victoria Azarenka in ’11 and Radwanska last year. The No. 1-ranked Williams might be the toughest matchup for her yet.

Sharapova is 2-11 against Williams, with both of the wins way back in 2004. Williams has won their past 10 meetings and their past 13 sets.

“They have been pretty quick matches,” Sharapova said. “She’s a tremendous athlete, has so much power, and a confident player as well. So if you have a few games where you’re not stepping in and not playing the way you should be, she takes really good advantage of it.”

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.”

Palm Beach Gardens resident Williams considers Key Biscayne her home tournament, and she was at her best before a near-capacity crowd for the night’s final match.

“I’m excited because I’m in the final again. Yay!” she told the crowd. “So many of my friends are here. My family is here. I have to do well here. I can’t let my friends down.”

Williams broke the tournament record for victories by a woman. She’s 60-7; Steffi Graf went 59-6.

Andy Murray, the 2009 champion and runner-up last year, advanced to the semifinals 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 be 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.

Williams had struggled in her previous two matches but played almost error-free tennis in the semifinal, using her superior power to keep Radwanska pinned deep and on the run. They played for 37 minutes and 55 points before Radwanska won a game, prompting a big roar from the crowd.

That made it 1-all in the second set, but there would be no comeback. Williams hit 12 aces, including four in one game, and enjoyed a 40-6 advantage in winners.

Radwanska, who also lost to Williams in last year’s Wimbledon final, fell to 1-11 against No. 1 players.

The earlier semifinal was just as lopsided. On a sunny, mild afternoon, Sharapova won the first 10 points against the No. 22-seeded Jankovic, then hardly let up from there.

Sharapova swept seven consecutive games during one stretch, and 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.

Williams said her final against Sharapova should be a crowd-pleaser.

“She’s playing so well,” Williams said. “I’ll do the best I can. It’ll be a good match. We love playing against each other. I love playing her and we always have a great match.”

Like Williams, Sharapova survived a sloppy quarterfinal, 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.



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