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Davenport to face Sharapova in final

News photoMaria Sharapova grits her teeth as she returns a shot to Shinobu Asagoe during their semifinal match in the Toray Pan Pacific Open at Tokyo Metropolitan Gym on Saturday. Sharapova won 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Top seed Lindsay Davenport beat third-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-1, 7-6 (7-2) Saturday to set up an intriguing final showdown with Maria Sharapova at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.

World No. 1 Davenport will be seeking her third straight title at the tournament while fourth-ranked Sharapova will be aiming for her first in Sunday’s final on the indoor carpet court at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

In the semifinals played before a sellout crowd of 8,633, Davenport made it look easy with a 6-1 first-set win over her Russian opponent but struggled to cope with Kuznetsova’s strong serves by misfiring on her forehand shots in the second set.

U.S. Open champion Kuznetsova was 3-1 and 4-3 up but Davenport managed to fight back and force a tie-breaker.

“People expect a lot but as a competitor you know it doesn’t come that easily,” the 28-year-old American said of the final against Sharapova.

“To make the final here is an achievement I’m proud of. I expect a tough match tomorrow. If you can serve well and hold, it puts pressure on the other player. Hopefully it’s going to be my day,” she said.

Earlier, No. 2 seed Sharapova earned a place in the final with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Japan’s Shinobu Asagoe.

Sharapova barely broke sweat in taking the first set but the Russian starlet was made to work hard against unseeded Asagoe, who threatened to come back with aggressive returns and neat footwork in a tight second set.

“We had a good match today. We both fought till the end. Asagoe is a good fighter,” said the 17-year-old Sharapova, who was eliminated in the round of 16 on her debut at this tournament last year.

“In the second set she picked up her level and it was close. It came down to the very end. I just tried to focus on myself and my own game plan because otherwise it gets complicated. I’m just so happy to be in the final, it doesn’t matter who I play,” she said.

The match featured long baseline rallies, but Asagoe wasted chances by double-faulting at three crucial break points. She was ahead at 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5, only to see the Wimbledon champion finish off the 12th game and the tie-breaker with aces.

The singles winner at the $1.3 million women’s event, Asia’s only top-tier tournament sanctioned by the WTA, will take home $189,000.

In the doubles semifinals, second-seeded Janette Husarova of Slovakia and Russian Elena Likhovtseva defeated the fourth-seeded pair of Nicole Pratt of Australia and Venezuelan Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-3, 6-3.

In Sunday’s final, Husarova and Likhovtseva will take on Americans Davenport and Corina Marariu, who advanced after third-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan withdrew due to an injury to Dementieva.

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