Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis showered reporters with roasted beans to ward off evil spirits after their wins at the Pan Pacific Open on Friday, but both showed they still have a little bit of the devil in them prior to their semifinal showdown.
“I’ll try to attack her serve — that’s one of her weaknesses,” top seed and defending champion Sharapova said after beating Samantha Stosur 6-1, 6-4 in their quarterfinal match.
Wild card Hingis crushed Russia’s Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-1, but was unwilling to share her game plan for Saturday’s clash against the world No. 4.
“We’ll see (in the match) if we can come up with a strategy — Maria might be reading the papers tomorrow,” the former world No. 1 said with a devilish grin.
Masked media men “attacked” the players during their post-match press conferences as part of Japan’s setsubun custom, but both returned early with volleys of bean-filled bowls.
Sharapova voiced concerns over Hingis’ ability at the quick response in what will be the pair’s first-ever meeting.
“She reads the ball well, takes it early and tries not to give you much time,” Sharapova said. “But it’s also important not to give her the time she needs.”
The other semifinal at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium will be between Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina, meaning three of the final four are Russian.
Dementieva beat Czech Nicole Vaidisova 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 and Myskina beat Elena Likhovtseva 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
The leggy Sharapova was in an unforgiving mood at the start of her second match of the the tournament and raced into a 5-0 lead with a flurry of heavy baseline strokes and closed out the first set in just 23 minutes.
Stosur kept pace with Sharapova in the second set, but on the first match point at 5-4 the Australian’s short serve was punished with a strong backhand that she could only return into the net.
Hingis, ranked 117th in the world, broke Kirilenko’s serve with ease and dispelled doubts she wouldn’t be able to mix it with the women power hitters after her return from a three-year injury enforced absence.
She quickly moved into a 3-0 lead in the first set and a stunned Kirilenko had no response, the Swiss star wrapping things up in little over an hour.
Hingis won this event in 1997, ’99, 2000 and ’02. The 25-year-old made her comeback at the start of this year, reaching the last four in her comeback tournament and getting to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before winning the mixed doubles there with India’s Mahesh Bhupati.
The winner on Sunday of the WTA-sanctioned Pan Pacific will walk off with a 23.3 million yen ($196,900) cash prize.