Sharapova ousts VenusROME
— A week after top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal lost early on an experimental blue surface in Madrid, they both reached the Italian Open semifinals Friday to show they are still top threats on red clay.
Djokovic struggled with his serve in the opening set but eventually found his range to eliminate fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-1. Five-time champion Nadal posted a 6-4, 7-5 win over seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych.
“In the second set I played one of the best sets on clay this year and this is encouraging for the challenges to come tomorrow and with Roland Garros,” Djokovic said. “I am playing and feeling better every match I play.”
Nadal was equally pleased. “I played one of my best match(es) on clay against a difficult opponent,” the Spaniard said.
Djokovic will next defend his title against Roger Federer, who beat Italian Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-2. Nadal’s opponent in the semifinal will be sixth-seeded David Ferrer, who beat Richard Gasquet 7-6 (4), 6-3.
In women’s action, Serena Williams reached the last four after Flavia Pennetta retired with a right wrist problem while trailing 4-0 in the first set. Serena’s winning streak is up to 17 matches following titles in Charleston, South Carolina and Madrid. She also has two victories in Fed Cup.
Serena’s next opponent will be French Open champion Li Na, who eliminated No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 7-6 (4).
Also on the women’s side, defending champion Maria Sharapova beat Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3. Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Rrepublic was beaten by No. 12 Angelique Kerber of Germany 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-1.
While Djokovic has not been dominating the game like last year — when he had a 43-match winning streak — he still finds a way to win matches without playing his best.
Serving at 5-5 in the first set, the Serb saved a potentially decisive break point with an authoritative serve and volley. Then he took six straight points.
“I really don’t compare with 2011,” Djokovic said. “This is a new year and I had great results so far in and I’m playing good in Rome so far. I’m increasing the level as the tournament goes on and this is important.”
Down to No. 3 in the rankings this week, Nadal broke in the opening game to take control of the first set, then recovered a break midway through the second before pulling ahead for good. The Spaniard dominated from the baseline, committing just 10 unforced errors and hitting 34 winners against his opponent’s 28.
Berdych was coming off a runner-up performance at the Madrid Open. He lost to Federer, who then replaced Nadal at No. 2.
Pennetta called for the trainer after falling behind 3-0. The Italian had her wrist re-taped, but conceded during the fifth game after 28 minutes of play.Azarenka blames rules World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka said she only played in this week’s Italian Open to avoid a ranking penalty. The Belarussian won her first match against Shahar Peer but then immediately pulled out of the tournament, citing a right shoulder injury.On Friday, Azarenka revealed via Twitter that she had been forced into playing in order to protect her position at the top of the world rankings. “I was conflicted and disappointed to withdraw from Rome,” she said. “I tried my hardest but I wasn’t healthy going into the tournament. If WTA rules were different then I could have focused on getting healthy but I could not afford another zero pointer on my ranking.” — Agencies