LONDON – Maria Sharapova powered to a 6-2, 7-5 win over Belgium’s Kim Clijsters Thursday as the Russian world No. 3 booked an Olympic semifinal clash with compatriot Maria Kirilenko.
Sharapova will play the 14th seed for a place in the final at Wimbledon after ending Clijsters’ hopes of a medal in her penultimate tournament before retiring for the second and final time after the U.S. Open.
“My previous matches against Kim have been quite difficult. I had so many opportunities to win in the past and I knew I had to step up today and stay extra focused,” Sharapova said.
“She’s such a tough competitor. I knew I needed to play at a high level to beat her and I was happy that I did that.
“The Olympics are so different, obviously very unique, and to have a chance to get to the final, that’s what it’s all about.”
French Open champion Sharapova and former world No. 1 Clijsters have eight Grand Slam titles between them, but both were competing in their first Olympics and they have been relishing the experience.
Clijsters had advanced to the last eight without dropping a set, so this was a frustrating way to say farewell to the All England Club, but she could have few complaints after being overpowered by Sharapova on Centre Court.
“I didn’t have many chances and overall she was the better player,” Clijsters said.
“Of all the matches I’ve played against her this is the best that she’s served, and on grass it’s going to be tough to beat her.
“But it was great. It’s a nice experience every time you go out on Centre Court so I’m happy to say that my last match at Wimbledon was on Centre Court.”
The 29-year-old made a sloppy start as a double-fault on break point in the opening game gifted Sharapova the lead.
Clijsters broke back to level at 2-2 but Sharapova delivered a ruthless response as she won the next four games, breaking twice, to take the set in stunning style.
When Sharapova landed an early break in the second set, it looked all over for Clijsters.
The Belgian refused to buckle and broke back to level at 3-3, but Sharapova wasn’t in the mood to be subdued and one last break at 5-5 was enough to end Clijsters’ resistance.
Serena Williams, another reigning Wimbledon champion who seeks her first Olympic singles medal, advanced to the semis by beating former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, 6-0, 6-3
Serena’s opponent in the semifinals Friday will be top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
Azarenka beat No. 7 Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 7-5
Federer, Djokovic win
Roger Federer’s final shot of the day clipped the net and settled softly in the grass, beyond even John Isner’s reach.
The crowd responded with a collective “aww,” Isner grimaced and Federer offered a sheepish wave of apology. But after all these years, he’s probably overdue for a little luck in the Olympics.
Federer advanced Thursday to the semifinals by beating Isner 6-4, 7-6 (7-5). With that tall hurdle cleared, four-time Olympian Federer needs two more wins to clinch the first singles medal of his career, which would plug the biggest hole in a resume that includes a record 17 Grand Slam titles.
“Being in the medal matches, at least I’ll get two shots,” Federer said. “That’s why I looked at this match as a final. You can imagine the relief and happiness I feel right now.”
On Friday, Federer will face No. 8-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina who beat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) in their quarterfinal.
Nishikori is now 0-4 in his career against del Potro. He was trying to become the first male Japanese player to reach the Olympic semifinals in 92 years.
Andy Murray will take on Novak Djokovic in the other match at the All England Club.
No. 2-seeded Djokovic advanced by beating No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, 6-1, 7-5, while Murray delighted a crowd that included Prince William and wife Kate by defeating No. 11 Nicolas Almagro of Spain, 6-4, 6-1.
“It came down to the tiebreak. I’m not thrilled,” said Nishikori, ranked 17th in the world. “I couldn’t serve and I could never get into a rhythm. And I had my serve all week up until now.”