/ 27 January 2015

Sharapova sails to Aus Open semifinals as Nadal falls out

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Tomas Berdych played arguably the grand slam quarter-final of his life to end the longest losing streak on the ATP Tour with a 6-2 6-0 7-6(5) victory over Rafael Nadal and advance to the Australian Open semifinals on Tuesday.

Berdych, who beat the virtually unstoppable and then six-times champion Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2010, had not beaten Nadal in 17 successive matches, tied for the record as the longest losing streak to another player.

The seventh-seed started like a runaway train against the 14-times grand slam champion forcing him deep behind the baseline and painting the tramlines as every shot he went for seemingly came off.

Berdych won the opening set for the first time in a run of seven matches against Nadal, then swept through the second in 25 minutes and despite a third set fightback by the Spaniard, the damage was done and the Czech moved into a semi-final against either Andy Murray or Nick Kyrgios. 

Sharapova in semis
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova showcased all of her canny experience and brutal efficiency as she gave Eugenie Bouchard a 78-minute tennis lesson to advance to the semifinals on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Bouchard reached the last four in Australia and France as well as the Wimbledon final in 2014 but was no match for Sharapova, who showed she was not ready to be usurped by the younger generation just yet in a 6-3 6-2 victory.

The 27-year-old has now beaten the Canadian in each of their four meetings, three of which have been at grand slams, and set up a meeting with 10th-seeded compatriot Ekaterina Makarova for a place in the final.

“I felt pretty good from the start [and] I kept my focus throughout the whole match,” Sharapova told reporters. “I didn’t feel that I had too many letdowns, which is important.

“When I did have a few slips I was able to come out with great first serves or really powerful returns.

“But overall really happy with the way the match went.”

Relentless attack
The Russian second seed jumped on a clearly nervous Bouchard from the first game of the match by breaking serve and did not allow her opponent to settle, which short-fused the Canadian’s attacking ground game.

The Russian also controlled the baseline and pressured the Canadian’s second serve, winning 15-of-21 points when Bouchard served a fault.

Her relentless attack also affected the Canadian’s timing as she made 30 unforced errors, 20 in the first set alone as Sharapova broke again in the ninth game to take it in 41 minutes.

The five-times grand slam winner made another fast start in the second set, racing through her first service game and breaking again in the fourth to give her the opening she needed.

She applied the coup-de-grace when she drove her 15th forehand winner into the empty backhand side of the court and let out a massive yelp in celebration.

“I felt under pressure the whole time … and it kind of all went downhill from there,” Bouchard said. “That’s not how I want to play.

“It’s definitely easier when you have a good start to the match.” 

Good track record
Sharapova advances to a semifinal against Makarova, who beat third-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 6-0 to advance to the penultimate round.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian Open and was a finalist twice, has a 5-0 record against Makarova, including wins in the quarterfinals in Australia in 2012 and 2013. In four of those losses, Makarova failed to win a set.

It will be Makarova’s second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. She made her first major semi at last year’s US Open, losing to Serena Williams, who is currently ranked first for women’s singles. – Reuters, Staff reporter