- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) - Between points, Serena Williams stood motionless behind the baseline with her back to the net, as if trying to match - or mimic - the methodical ritual of her opponent, Maria Sharapova.

They took turns waiting on each other, the pace of play plodding, which only delayed the inevitable. Williams beat Sharapova for the 15th consecutive time Thursday, rallying in both sets to win 6-4, 6-3 in the Sony Open semifinals.

“I have always felt when I’m playing at my best, then it’s hard for people to beat me,” Williams said.

Rafael Nadal could say the same. He advanced to the semifinals by hitting a flurry of forehand winners down the stretch to beat Milos Raonic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.


On Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Williams will try for a record seventh Key Biscayne title against No. 2 Li Na, who overcame 40 unforced errors to beat Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Williams is 10-1 against Li.

Williams improved to 16-2 against Sharapova, whose most recent victory in their rivalry came in 2004.

“Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against her because you learn so much from that type of level which she produces,” Sharapova said. “You finish the match, and you know where you need to improve and the things that you need to work on.”

Williams can credit a superior serve and better returns for her latest win. She hit nine aces and broke five times, which helped her rebound from deficits of 4-1 in the first set and 2-0 in the second.

“I wasn’t playing my best,” Williams said. “I knew if I wanted to stay in the tournament and make another final, I just had to play better.”

She did, earning her 14th consecutive victory against a top-10 player.

The No. 1-ranked Nadal, who is 0-3 in Key Biscayne finals, needs one more win to get there again. His opponent Friday night will be No. 7-seeded Tomas Berdych, who advanced by beating No. 22 Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Nadal has beaten Berdych 16 times in a row over the past seven years.

“This tournament is a tournament where I really feel the love of the people so much,” Nadal said, “so I’m going to try my best to keep playing well.”

Three-time champion Novak Djokovic will play in the other semifinal Friday against No. 20-seeded Kei Nishikori, who eliminated Roger Federer on Wednesday.

Williams first won Key Biscayne in 2002 and is the defending champion. A minority owner in the Miami Dolphins, she has worn the team’s orange and turquoise throughout the tournament she considers her home event because she lives 90 minutes up Interstate 95.

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