Maria Sharapova's eight-match winning streak came to a crashing halt in the JPMorgan Chase Open on Saturday, felled by her own listless play and 46 errors in a 7-5, 6-2 loss to Elena Dementieva in an all-Russian semifinal.
Dementieva will meet 16th-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Montenegro, a 6-4, 6-3 upset winner over Serena Williams.
Williams, unseeded and playing her third tournament of the year after a knee injury knocked her out for six months, is projected to rise to a ranking between No. 75 and 80 from her current 110.
"I still believe I'm going in the right direction," she said. "I'm definitely doing better than I was my first week back."
Sharapova hadn't lost so much as a set during her streak, which included the Acura Classic title last week in Carlsbad. But she did little right against Dementieva, the No. 3 seed who reached the final here for the first time in five tries.
"I've played nine matches in the last 13 days. That pretty much sums it up," Sharapova said. "I was tired, even in the warmup. There's only so much you can force your body to do."
Williams appeared tired in the second set against Jankovic, who reached her first final this year. She won one match in her first 10 tournaments before going 24-9 in her last 10, including Carson.
Williams carried some extra motivation against Jankovic, who took out her older sister, Venus, in the fourth round at Wimbledon, when Venus accused Jankovic of serving before she was ready. Indeed, there appeared to be some gamesmanship between Serena and Jankovic.
During a changeover early in the second set, Jankovic flicked a ball on the other side of the net and it hit Williams, who turned sharply and stared at her opponent.
Williams asked the chair umpire to tell Jankovic to stop hitting balls at her "because it almost hit me in the eye." At the end of the match, Williams let Jankovic know she had been hit.
"I didn't hit her on purpose," Jankovic said later. Williams told reporters, "She has a habit of blasting balls on the other end of the court. On the court, she's a tough girl. She's nice and I've never had a problem with her.
"I know for a fact she wasn't hitting the ball at me." Later in the set, Williams drilled an overhead smash down the middle of the court. Jankovic ducked as it sailed over her.
Williams received a warning for racket abuse after losing the first set. She quickly fell behind 5-1 in the second, giving actress Sharon Stone and Williams' family little to cheer.
Jankovic served out the match at love on four consecutive errors by Williams, including dumping a smash into the net on match point. Sharapova brought momentum from her recent victories and a dominating 5-1 career record against Dementieva, including wins this year at Indian Wells and Wimbledon.
But she was clearly off her game from the start, quickly falling into a 5-2 hole in the first set.
"I put two points together and then would deflate for the next four," she said. "I thought I could maybe put a game or two together, but then I would deflate. No matter how much you want to do it, you just can't."
She saved a set point serving at 5-2 and rattled off three games in a row to tie the set at 5-all with a stinging forehand.
Sharapova challenged an out call trailing 5-3, 40-30 on Dementieva's serve. Her challenge was ruled good by the electronic line-calling system - one of the few things that went Sharapova's way.
But Dementieva held and then broke Sharapova at love with a forehand winner in the corner to wrap up the set.
"I was playing with lots of patience," Dementieva said. "I wasn't trying to attack her from the first ball."
Sharapova's father and coach Yuri couldn't sit still, changing seats three times and wiping his face in the heat. Dementieva built a 3-0 lead in the second.
Sharapova held at love and then broke Dementieva to get to 3-2 before Dementieva closed out the final three games.
Sharapova battled on her serve in the final game, which was marked by extended rallies before Dementieva won on her seventh match point. Twice, Sharapova had the advantage, but she committed errors both times.
She finally sent a backhand past the baseline as Dementieva squealed with delight and smiled at her boyfriend, Buffalo Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov.
"This really means a lot to me," she said.
Dementieva was coming off a three-set quarterfinal win over Bethanie Mattek and a late doubles match on Friday. "Sometimes it's better to play some more matches and not think about what you have to do tomorrow," she said.
"The doubles helped me a little bit because I was a little tired. I didn't go for too much today."
Dementieva will play for her sixth career title and second this year. She won the Tokyo Indoors in February.
Sharapova considers herself a threat to win the US Open which begins on August 28.
"Even in the points where we actually got some rallies, even though it didn't come through, I still felt like I was hitting the ball well," she said. "I can finally say I'm not lacking matches going into a Grand Slam."
Sharapova is scheduled to play next week in Montreal, already hard-hit by the withdrawals of top-name players, in what would be her final tuneup for the Open.
"Right now it doesn't seem realistic," she said.