Serena Wiliams beat Maria Sharapova, place in semifinals

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova’s strength and it helped extend her complete control of their rivalry, earning the six-time Australian Open champion a place in the semifinals.

Top-ranked Williams beat Sharapova 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, her 18th consecutive victory and 19th in 21 career meetings back to 2004.

“It was super intense,” Williams said of the replay of last year’s final. Sharapova is “an incredibly intense, focused player who was No. 1 and has won so many Grand Slams for a reason.

“You have to come out with a lot of fire and intensity.”

Each of the six previous times Williams has won a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, she has won the title at the season-opening Grand Slam tournament.

Up next for her is fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the fifth time. She has never won a major. Sharapova has won five majors, including the 2008 Australian title, and has been in three other finals at Melbourne Park. In her fourth-round win against No. 12 Belinda Bencic she had a career-high 21 aces. Against Williams, she had three and seven double-faults. Sharapova broke to open the match and held for a 2-0 lead.

But Williams held in the third game, closing with an ace after it went to deuce, and then broke to level at 2-2. Early in the set, points were short. As it got longer, the rallies got longer, the shrieks and grunts got louder and the emotions were fully on display. Both players struggled with their ball toss at one end, repeatedly practicing their toss to work out the best position to serve into the sun.

Williams also had to concentrate hard to hold in the ninth game, when a baby screamed loudly for most of the game. She was able to protect her own serve, and go on the attack against Sharapova’s. It cost her in the game she had three break-point chances in the eighth, taking the high-risk rather than the high-percentage option with her return.

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