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Upbeat Sharapova ‘finding herself’ at AEGON Classic

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Originally published on: 11/06/10 15:38

Maria Sharapova advanced to the AEGON Classic semi-finals with a straight sets win over Sesil Karatantcheva in the first match to be completed on Edgbaston’s Centre Court in four days after rain water seeped under the court covers earlier in the week.

But Yanina Wickmayer became the tournament’s most high-profile victim, falling 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3 to qualifier Alison Riske.

The American 19-year-old, playing in just her second WTA event after making her Tour debut in Charleston back in April, screamed with delight after sealing victory on her first match point to set up a semi-final showdown with the former world No.1.

Sharapova, a two-time champion at the Birmingham event, made light work of the Bulgaria-born Kazakhstani in the day’s first match, posting a 6-2 6-4 win in just 72 minutes.

It was a solid performance from the No.2 seed, dictating play from the baseline for a fourth victory against her 20-year-old opponent, who yesterday knocked out defending champion Magdalena Rybarikova.

And while Sharapova said afterwards that her game still has some way to go, she admitted feeling better about her prospects for the rest of the season than she had done at this stage last year.

I’m feeling really good,” she said, having come through four weeks out with an elbow injury in March and April. “With each match I’m getting better and the things I’ve been working on in training, I’m pushing myself to do them in the match as well.

“I’m much more comfortable,” she said when comparing her circumstances to this time twelve months ago. “Last year this was my third tournament back, and I was still trying to find my range. I wasn’t quite sure how my arm was going to hold up on any given day, but now I feel a whole lot better.

Asked what she had been doing to kill time while waiting for matches, the 23-year-old revealed she had done some soul-searching – and some homework.

“You just spend some quality time with yourself and really get to know yourself, talk to yourself!

“I’m studying French now,” she revealed. “When I got injured I started going to school, and while I wasn’t playing for a couple of weeks I was going to class every day, so I’m boning up on my homework right now.”

But despite admitting that the Edgbaston courts are “probably not the best they’ve ever been” this week,sharapova said she was just glad to be out on court and playing well.

“I’m here to play tennis and here to play matches, I’m here to get ready for Wimbledon. Whether it’s on a bowling green or at the circus I don’t really care – you put up the net and I’ll go out and play tennis. As a tennis player you’re faced with many challenges, whether it’s good weather, bad weather, tough or easy opponents, whatever it is, you have to go out there.”

Riske, her semi-final opponent tomorrow, will pose a fresh challenge tomorrow. The South Carolina teenager had beaten just one player in the top 100 and faced just one in the top 50 before arriving in Birmingham, but this week has collected victories over world No.85 Sandra Zahlavova and No.50 Aleksandra Wozniak, former world No.5 Anna Chakvetadze and last year’s US Open semi-finalist Wickmayer, currently up at No.16 in the world.

In the other half of the draw, top seed Na Li survived a scare in her third round match against Angelique Kerber. Returning after play was suspended at one set all yesterday, the German broke the world No.11 and served for the match at 5-4.

But Li hit back with two breaks in succession to book her quarter-final spot 4-6 6-4 7-5 and a showdown later that same day with Kaia Kanepi, who saw off Michelle Larcher de Brito 6-2 6-2.

In the doubles, top seeds and American teammates Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won an entertaining opening encounter with British duo Laura Robson and Heather Watson.

At 34, world No.1 Huber is as old as the two teenagers combined ages and that experience told, with the Fed Cup finalists’ net coverage the telling difference as they sealed a 6-4 6-4 win.

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