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Sharapova keeps rolling right along

She defeats Jankovic, 6-3, 6-1, in Australian Open women's semifinal. Ivanovic rallies past Hantuchova in the other semifinal.

January 24, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Double vision unfolded in real time Thursday in the semifinals of the Australian Open

Two powerful baseliners still aiming for their first title here. Two tall Eastern Europeans with model groundstrokes, and fashion-model looks, and even the same consistent habit of wearing a visor at all matches, even indoors.

Yes, Maria Sharapova's arrival in the Australian Open final seemed all but predestined considering the way she looked in her first five matches, particularly her quarterfinal contest against No. 1 Justine Henin. But No. 6 was equally impressive, considering the survival skills of her ailing opponent.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova of Russia opened fast, winning the first five games, and closed emphatically, defeating No. 3 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-1, in 1 hour 18 minutes, under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena because of rain. Jankovic needed treatment for her various ailments, including having to leave the court because of an injured back.

But the word predestined certainly did not apply to No. 4 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia after the first eight games of her semifinal against No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia. At that point, well, points were few and far between for Ivanovic.

Despite losing the first eight games, Ivanovic steadied her nerve and waited, as it often happens, for Hantuchova to lose hers.

Would it be Ivanovic or Hantuchova in the Australian Open final for the first time as the match went past the two-hour mark? The answer was Ivanovic after 2 hours and 10 minutes. She completed the incredible comeback, winning, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Perhaps the seer, Sharapova, had the best assessment. She was in the interview room during the second set of the Ivanovic-Hantuchova match and was asked about the latter winning so easily.

"The match is not over yet," she said.

Reporter: 6-0 is quite an astonishing score for the first set.

Sharapova: "Yeah. But who cares what the first set is. It's a matter of who wins the match, right?"

Game, set and match, Sharapova.

Her vision was even more striking on the court. Very little has unnerved her this fortnight and the delayed start to the match because of the weather and closed roof hardly fazed last year's finalist, nor did Jankovic's injury timeouts.

"I had a really good start to the match, you know, considering the conditions changed so quickly. I warmed up outside," Sharapova said. "Our little warmup was pretty much outside, and then all of a sudden the roof was closed. Mentally, you've just got to be prepared for that and you're playing an indoor match where you've basically been playing outdoors for the last five matches.

"I kept momentum going, and she's always dangerous when she's down. She's proven that in this tournament."

Sharapova hit 20 winners to Jankovic's three in the first set -- the final total was 30-8 -- and the 22-year-old Serb was blown away by Sharapova's high-level of play. There was that, and Jankovic's fast-multiplying injuries. She thought about withdrawing but realized it was "not fair for the crowd."

"Everything she hit, each strike was amazing," Jankovic said. "Even though when she was late or whatever, but it was all going in. She didn't make a mistake. She was just on a roll.

"And I was thinking, 'When is she going to wake up from her dream?' "

Hantuchova's dream turned into a nightmare after a brilliant start, winning the first set in 25 minutes. It took Ivanovic 46 minutes to prevent the shutout, seizing her first game with a forehand winner.

Until then, it had been all-Hantuchova. As it turned out, Sharapova knew what she was talking about.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

--

WOMEN'S FINAL

Who: Maria Sharapova (5), Russia, vs. Ana Ivanovic (4), Serbia.

When: Friday, 6:30 p.m. PST., ESPN2.

Head to head: 2-2.

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