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Sharapova makes strides on clay

Sharapova's best showing yet at Roland Garros represents a breakthrough on clay, her least-favorite surface.

sports Updated: Jun 07, 2007 14:49 IST

Clumsy cows in cold climates can take heart: Maria Sharapova is in the semifinals of the French Open. Sharapova's best showing yet at Roland Garros represents a breakthrough on clay, her least-favorite surface. Only last week, the Siberian native complained the stuff made her feel like "a cow on ice."

But she found her footing to beat Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Sharapova said. "I'm more proud and excited about it. ...

"I didn't come off the court and go, `Wow, I'm in the semifinals.' That wasn't really the feeling that I had. In any tournament that I play, whether it's on clay or mud or whatever it is, I know what I'm capable of, and I believe in myself." Bidding for her third Grand Slam title, the No. 2-seeded Sharapova will play Thursday against No. 7 Ana Ivanovic. The other semifinal will be between top-ranked Justine Henin and No. 4-seeded Jelena Jankovic.

Henin, who seeks to become the first woman to win three consecutive French Open titles since Monica Seles in 1990-92, advanced by beating Serena Williams 6-4, 6-3.

Henin dominated with a vast array of shots, while Williams blamed herself for a sloppy, passive performance.

"I never play like that," Williams said. "Sometimes you've got to just step back and say, 'OK, try this, try that, or try Plan B.' But I think my Plan B was to make errors."

Ivanovic defeated 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-0, 3-6, 6-1, and Jankovic beat No. 6 Nicole Vaidisova 6-3, 7-5. In the men's semifinals Friday, top-ranked Roger Federer will try to improve to 9-0 against No. 4-seeded Nikolay Davydenko. Federer lost a set for the first time in 12 Grand Slam matches, but regrouped to beat No. 9-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2. Davydenko eliminated No. 19 Guillermo Canas 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. The last quarterfinals were scheduled for Wednesday: two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal against No. 23 Carlos Moya in an all-Spaniard matchup, and No. 6 Novak Djokovic against unseeded Igor Andreev.

Sharapova said she wouldn't be surprised if she wins the tournament, but she understood why her success this year at Roland Garros might be considered unexpected.

"I haven't really played that much on clay," she said. She grew up on hard courts and took quickly to grass, winning Wimbledon three years ago at age 17. But the lanky Sharapova has struggled with her movement on clay, although her French Open record was a respectable 11-3 in 2004-06, with two trips to the quarterfinals.

The Russian has now surpassed those showings, even while nursing a sore right shoulder. She missed nearly two months with the injury before returning in May for a French Open tuneup. "After being so up and down for such a long period of time, you're just grateful for every single moment you can be out on the court and feeling like you have a chance to be healthy, and you're out there enjoying yourself," Sharapova said. "That's really what I'm doing."

She'll have a big edge in experience against the 19-year-old Ivanovic, a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist.

"I'm really excited to get so far," Ivanovic said, "and the tournament is still not over."

Henin faces a potentially tough challenge from Jankovic, who is 44-10 this year and 23-3 on clay. But two of those clay-court losses came against Henin, who is 5-0 against Jankovic.

"I will try to find a way somehow to win," Jankovic said. "I think I can do it ... because I feel that I'm really physically very fit, and I feel like I move so well on the clay."

First Published: Jun 07, 2007 14:46 IST