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Sharapova, Jankovic advance to semifinals

by Andrew Mckirdy

Former world No. 1s Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic remained on course for a final showdown with quarterfinal wins at the Toray Pan Pacific Open on Thursday, while Ai Sugiyama raged against the dying light to move into the semifinals of the doubles competition.

Russia’s Sharapova, feeling her way back after a 10-month injury layoff, put in an all-action, fist-pumping performance to beat Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-5, racking up a count of six aces and eight double faults along the way.

“The goal is to be aggressive and not be passive,” Sharapova said. “That’s my game and that’s how I’ve always played. I like to attack and that usually means I’m going to make more errors, but it’s all about execution.”

The win earned Sharapova a semifinal clash against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska and fueled her confidence that she can return to the form that brought her three Grand Slam titles earlier in her career.

“I feel like I’m certainly getting that feeling back of, not automatic mode, but being patient when you have to be patient and maybe being a little more aggressive when the time is right,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I’ve had to work on. . .”

Jankovic set up a semifinal meeting with China’s Li Na after overcoming Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-3 earlier in the day.

Both players struggled to find their rhythm in a first set in which seven of the 10 games went against service, but a rapid 3-0 lead in the second set gave Jankovic the platform to finally get the better of Bartoli after losing to the Frenchwoman in their previous four encounters.

“What makes the difference is when my mind is on court, then I play at another level,” Jankovic said. “I showed that today, and it was a big difference to the previous matches. Today I controlled the ball well and I didn’t let her play her game. I was out there showing what I can do, and the difference was obvious.”

One of those losses to Bartoli came in January’s Australian Open, at the start of what has been a turbulent year for the Serbian.

“There are so many things that have happened in the past year,” she said. “I changed coach, my mum got sick and had surgery and my grandmother died. So many things were happening that of course it affects my game and I’m not able to concentrate. There are more important things in life.

“Now I am trying to focus on my tennis and trying to enjoy it. I can only do what I can in the next few tournaments, and then try to start 2010 better than this year.”

Sugiyama and Slovakian partner Daniela Hantuchova went into their doubles match against second-seeded Spaniards Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual knowing it could be the last of Sugiyama’s 17-year career.

The 34-year-old will retire after the Tokyo tournament, and having pulled out of the singles competition through illness earlier in the week, the stakes were raised when Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual recovered from a set down to take the match to a super tiebreaker.

But Sugiyama shook off the lingering aftereffects of her fever to land a series of crucial points, earning a 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 10-7 win and setting up a semifinal against Gisela Dulko and Nadia Petrova.

“Compared to my singles match I was feeling much better, and of course with doubles the points are shorter and you only have to run about a quarter as much as you would in singles,” Sugiyama said. “I wasn’t confident about my energy, but Daniela played a great match and she really pulled me through.”

A return ace from Sugiyama with the tiebreaker at 8-7 brought up match point, and the veteran forced a mistake at the net to secure the win.

“It was a tough match right from the beginning and it could have gone either way,” she said. “We had to be aggressive, and we were able to change the flow into the super tiebreaker. That return ace was something I was talking to Daniela about, that being aggressive was really only the way to beat such a great team.”