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Things go swimmingly for the Serbians

Jankovic and Ivanovic will meet in semifinals. Sharapova grunts her way past Dementieva and will face Petrova.

August 11, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have moved out of the swimming pool and onto the stadium courts of major tennis tournaments.

They no longer play for watermelons -- the older the player the bigger the watermelon, according to Jankovic.

Today the two Serbians -- second-seeded Jankovic and third-seeded Ivanovic -- play in the afternoon semifinals of the East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center.

At stake are ranking points and a helping of confidence in advance of the U.S. Open.

Jankovic defeated 18-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2, in Friday's quarterfinals, then described as circus-like a chaotic atmosphere that included a chair umpire who couldn't always get the score correct and the occasional water bottle skittering across the court.

Ivanovic, who has already been a French Open finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist this year, overcame some unsteady service games for a 6-4, 6-4 win over Russia's Maria Kirilenko.

In tonight's other semifinal, fourth-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia, who was a 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1 winner over unseeded Virginie Razzano of France, will play top-seeded Maria Sharapova who beat ninth-seeded defending champion Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 6-4.

Ivanovic, 19, owns a 3-1 career advantage over the 22-year-old Jankovic and is running with a three-match winning streak. Ivanovic speaks at a speed rivaling her 100-mph serves and her recollection of her first match against Jankovic, when she was 7 and at a court converted from a swimming pool in Belgrade was vivid enough that she related taking a loss, 7-1, in an oddly scored match.

Jankovic was astounded. "Really," she said, "I don't remember playing her until we were pros," Jankovic said. Instead Jankovic was entertaining in explaining how she was rewarded for her junior wins with watermelons instead of trophies.

A 10-year-old received a 10-kilogram watermelon. A 14-year-old received a 14-kilogram watermelon. And in a time when war had impoverished her country, Jankovic said no one waited to take the watermelons home. "We opened them right there," Jankovic said. "What can I say? Sweet victory."

Jankovic's only (remembered) victory over Ivanovic was here last year in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 7-6 (6). Since then Ivanovic has beaten her countrywoman on hardcourts in Montreal, on carpet in Tokyo and on clay at Amelia Island.

"I've had tough times with her," Jankovic said. "Her game doesn't really suit mine. She goes for broke, she doesn't like to play many points, she hits the ball very, very hard."

Both women played loud, hard-hitting tennis in the evening match. Sharapova and Dementieva are big grunters and the harder they hit their ground strokes the louder the match became. The noisy points even got the crowd into the match.

Sharapova held a 6-2 career advantage over Dementieva but one of the losses was here last year when Dementieva upset Sharapova in the semifinals. There was no real threat of such an upset Friday night.

When it mattered, when it seemed as if Dementieva might outslug Sharapova, her shaky serve surfaced. Dementieva double faulted on the final point of the first set and gave up the first service break of the second set when, on a 0-40 point, she double faulted again.

After Dementieva pulled even in the second set at 4-4, Sharapova boosted her volume and hitting to a higher level.

The best point of the night gave Sharapova her first match point. She and Dementieva pushed each other forward and backward until Sharapova slid a little passing shot past Dementieva.

"I was huffing and puffing after that one," Sharapova said, "but it was good."

It gave Sharapova a 40-0 advantage. It took two more points before the world's second-ranked player celebrated after a netted Dementieva backhand.

"A good thing about the end was that I didn't get frustrated," Sharapova said.

--

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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