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Sharapova to face Serena

AP

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are set to renew their long and not-so-friendly rivalry after advancing to a semifinal match at the Brisbane International, a key warmup tournament for the Australian Open.

The pair played back-to-back quarterfinals on center court Thursday, with third-seeded Sharapova needing two hours to beat 2012 Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. She dropped three service games in the first set and another to open the second before finding her range and staging her comeback against the No. 30-ranked Kanepi.

Top-ranked Williams, the defending champion, was next on court and didn’t lose a point on serve in the first set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win over ninth-seeded Diminika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

Williams has a 14-2 record and 13-match win streak against Sharapova, beating the Russian most recently in last year’s French Open final.

Any friendship the pair had soured when they traded personal barbs relating to their romantic relationships ahead of last year’s Wimbledon, where Sharapova made an early exit. She only played one match after that in 2013 and spent the latter months of the year recovering from a right shoulder problem.

Sharapova has only played two matches since August, both this week.

Williams had a spectacular year, meanwhile, winning 78 of her 82 matches and capturing 11 titles, including two majors to increase her career total to 17.

As far as any grudges go, Williams told a news conference Thursday: “It’s very difficult I think for anyone to be best buddies when you’re so competitive.”

“But I don’t have a problem with anyone,” she said. “I don’t take jabs or anything. I am who I am and I don’t hide anything.”

Sharapova didn’t back away from her comments at Wimbledon in a New York Times profile last month, giving the impression that her relationship with Williams was still cold. On Thursday, she said she’d used the newspaper interview to “clear the air.”

Asked how she’d describe their rivalry now, Sharapova replied: “Well, I think I got to win a few times in order to call it rivalry.”

“I haven’t had a lot of success against her in the past,” she added. “It’s the first tournament of the year. I came here wanting to play as many matches as I could and obviously wanting to play the best.

“There is no substitute for getting ready for a Grand Slam than competing against the best.”

Murray crashes out

Doha AP

Third-seeded Andy Murray, playing in his first tournament since back surgery in late September, was upset by Florian Mayer of Germany 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the Qatar Open on Wednesday.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was also taken to three sets but emerged with a 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 win over Tobias Kamke of Germany, while second-seeded David Ferrer joined Murray in making an early exit after a 6-4, 7-5 loss to Daniel Brands of Germany.

Murray was leading 6-3, 3-0 when the 40th-ranked Mayer started to play more aggressively, going for winners on nearly every shot. The German won 12 of the last 15 games, closing out the match with a net-cord winner to seal the win in 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Murray hit 25 winners, but the reigning Wimbledon champion also had 37 unforced errors.

“I didn’t have extremely high expectations, because I haven’t obviously played a match for a long time,” Murray said. “You don’t know exactly how your body is going to respond.”

Nadal trailed 4-1 in the second set but bounced back to level it at 4-4 before Kamke dominated the tiebreaker, taking a 5-0 lead.

Nadal earned three breaks in the match — one in each set — and each time Kamke double-faulted on break point.

“Important win,” said Nadal, who next faces seventh-seeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. “I spent a lot of time on court, so that’s important for my preparation, too.”