French Open 2013: Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka reach semis

PARIS — For one full set, Maria Sharapova was about as bad as can be.

The French Open’s defending champion could not direct the ball where she wanted at the start of her quarterfinal against Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic. Point after point ended with a mistake by Sharapova — long, wide, into the net, 20 unforced errors in all.

It added up to only the sixth time in 626 career matches that Sharapova dropped a first set at love. She lost all of those others, never even forcing a third set. Sharapova did not go quietly Wednesday, though, turning up the level of her shot-making and the volume of her “Come on!” shouts on the way to beating the 18th-seeded Jankovic 0-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“I wanted to put that chapter behind me,” the second-seeded Sharapova said. “No matter how many errors I made or how disappointed I was with the way I started the match, I knew that I still could try to create chances out there; obviously taking them is another question. But I knew that I was capable of doing much better.”

Jankovic didn’t so much earn her early lead as accept it: Of the 27 points she won in that first set, only two came via her winners.

Down the stretch, Jankovic faded, losing the final four games. She was wearing beige strips of tape on her right shoulder and both thighs and said playing singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles these two weeks caught up with her.

“I needed a bit more gas in my tank to finish this match off,” she acknowledged.

In Thursday’s semifinals, Sharapova will face No. 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, the two-time Australian Open champion, who eliminated her friend and former doubles partner, No. 12 Maria Kirilenko of Russia, 7-6 (3), 6-2 to reach the semifinals at the fourth major tournament in a row.

Azarenka, who is 7-5 against Sharapova, summed up their latest matchup of power-based games this way: “Definitely going to be exciting and interesting.”

The other women’s semifinal is No. 1 Serena Williams, a 15-time Grand Slam champion, against No. 5 Sara Errani of Italy. They won their quarterfinals Tuesday.

It’s the first French Open semifinal for Williams since 2003, the year after she won her only title in Paris. Errani, who is 0-5 against Williams, was the runner-up to Sharapova 12 months ago.

“I never expected to get to the semifinals this year after making last year’s final. There was a lot of pressure this year and I’m happy that I was able to handle it,” Errani said. “We’ll see how the semifinal goes.”

Sharapova’s 2012 French Open title completed a career Grand Slam, adding to championships at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.

For someone who used to mock her own inability to move well on red clay, Sharapova sure is taking to the slow surface nowadays: She’s won 12 consecutive matches at Roland Garros, where her 42-9 career record leads active women.

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