Li and Sharapova storm into Qatar Open semi-finals

China's Li Na and Maria Sharapova both stormed into the Qatar Open semi-finals on Friday.

updated: February 23, 2008 10:11 IST
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China's Li Na, who hopes to challenge for a medal at the Beijing Olympics, and Maria Sharapova, who'll be one of the favourites in the Chinese capital, both stormed into the Qatar Open semi-finals on Friday.

Li got the better of her third top 20 victim in a row when she enjoyed a 6-3, 6-4 success against Jelena Jankovic, the world number four from Serbia to add to her wins over Anna Chakvetadze, the fifth-seeded Russian, and Shahar Peer, the 12th seeded Israeli.

The victories have carried Li to the semi-finals of this 2.5 million dollar event, the first time she has reached this stage in a tier one tournament. They also continued her great start to 2008 after taking six months off.

Asked why she was playing so well now, Li said: "Maybe because my husband just gave me a credit card - no I'm joking."

Li will now face experienced Russian Vera Zvonereva while Sharapova, who brushed aside Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki 6-0, 6-1, will tackle Agnieszka Radwanska, the Polish girl who knocked her out of the 2007 US Open.

Li's success hinged on making the first aggressive hit in the rally and striking the ball more powerfully than Jankovic, forcing her highly rated opponent to contain and defend more often.

However, in the second set it seemed that Jankovic might level things up.

Three times she had Li at 15-30 on her serve, but each time the world number 29 from Wuhan responded with some of her best tennis.

In fact her husband-coach Jiang Shan told her not to worry about how her opponent would play.

"I told him that it was so windy I can't play properly," Li admitted.

"He said: 'Just think you like windy and that will help a lot'. It did."

Li created history when she became the first Chinese singles player to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon two years ago and the first to reach the world's top 20.

Jankovic gave credit to her opponent.

"I just couldn't play my game. It was difficult dealing with her shots. I was fighting and came back into it and had some opportunities which I couldn't take," said Jankovic.

Australian Open champion Sharapova maintained her unbeaten record in 2008 as she thundered her way to the semi-finals in less than an hour.

The strident brevity of Sharapova's win over Wozniacki, the promising 17-year-old Dane, suggested she is unofficial favourite for her second title of the year as well provided her with her 12th successive victory in all competitions.

"It was a pretty solid performance apart from one game in the second set," said Sharapova.

"I felt pretty comfortable from the beginning. I was aggressive. I served and returned pretty well and felt pretty good.

"I had to treat her with respect, because she had nothing to lose out there."

Sharapova now plays Radwanska, the elder of two rising sisters, the first Polish woman ever to make the world's top 20.

"I don't like losing to an opponent twice in a row, so I am quite excited about getting an opportunity to play her again and give myself a chance to beat her," said the Russian.

Radwanska achieved her first Grand Slam quarter-final in Australia last month and has now reached her first WTA Tour semi-final with a three-hour 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 win against another 18-year-old, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

Zvonareva, an unseeded former top ten player, reached a semi-final for the second time this year, overcoming Sybille Bammer, the 15th seeded Austrian.

Bammer, the only mother playing regularly at the top level of the game, upset Svetlana Kuznetsova, the second-seeded former US Open champion, in a ferocious gale on Thursday but this time fell away tiredly to a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 defeat.