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Maria Sharapova looks like the Sharapova of old as she storms into Wimbledon semifinals

Sharapova, bidding for a second Wimbledon title to go with the one she won in 2004 at age 17, rolls past Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1, 6-1, and will face unseeded Sabine Lisicki. Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova also advance.

June 28, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Dominika Cibulkova in a Wimbledon quarterfinal match on Tuesday.
Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Dominika Cibulkova in a Wimbledon… (Carl De Souza / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Wimbledon, England — While Sabine Lisicki triumphantly proved that it pays to give the right person a free pass, Petra Kvitova displayed her fondness for grass-court tennis and Victoria Azarenka adapted to a change from inside to outside, one player stood out from the others on women's quarterfinal day at Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova, seven years ago a wide-eyed and unexpected 17-year-old champion at the All England Club, played fiercely aggressive tennis Tuesday and beat diminutive Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1, 6-1, in 60 minutes to advance to her first Wimbledon semifinal since 2006.

She will play the big-serving, unseeded German wild card, Lisicki, who finally conquered the exhausted Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, in a 2 hour 21-minute quarterfinal.

Kvitova, the left-hander who made it to the semifinals last year, the only major semifinal of her career, survived a shaky second set to knock out Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2.

She is seeded eighth and will play the highest-seeded player left in the women's draw, No. 4 Azarenka, who played one game against Austria's Tamira Paszek outside on Court 1 before rain came and the roof went up on Centre Court, where Azarenka proceeded to pummel Paszek, 6-3, 6-1.

Sharapova, though, is the only semifinalist with a major title to her name.

When she conquered Serena Williams in the 2004 championship match, outhitting the heavily favored American in a dominating 6-1, 6-4 victory, it seemed the 6-foot-2 Russian would step forward and stay with Serena and her sister Venus at the top of the game.

Sharapova did win a U.S. Open title (in 2006) and an Australian Open title (2008), but she also suffered a serious shoulder injury, had surgery and hasn't threatened to win a major since that Aussie Open.

But Tuesday against the 5-foot-3 Cibulkova, Sharapova seemed to swallow up her opponent with punishing groundstrokes.

As fast as Cibulkova could move, she was often behind the shots that Sharapova powered.

"I played really solid and did the right things to win today," Sharapova said. She was also thoughtful in talking about her struggles both with injuries and confidence.

"A lot of times you feel like it's a dead end," she said. "You have to turn around and have a few other options. The navigation is not always correct, like in the cars. You know, they're always a little off. I don't like to use them.

"I've worked really hard to get in this stage but I'm not saying this is where I want it to end. I want to keep going."

Sharapova's semifinal opponent, Lisicki, 21, also has negotiated a tricky and injury-filled road over the last 18 months. She suffered serious problems with her ankle that caused her to miss nearly five months of competition last year. Her ranking dropped so far that she needed a wild-card invitation into the main draw here.

Now she is the first German woman since Steffi Graf in 1999 to make the semifinals, and she has done it with power serving (a tournament-high 44 aces) and mental fortitude. She saved three match points in the second set against Bartoli.

Azarenka, 21, like Lisicki, is in her first major championship semifinal.

The Belarusian played one game against the 20-year-old Paszek on Court 1 before rain began and the match was moved to Centre Court.

"I was glad they moved us," Azarenka said, "because then I was sure we were going to finish the match." Azarenka kept Paszek off balance from the start of the 1 hour 24-minute match until the end.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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