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Five months ago, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova did battle in the semi-finals of the Australian Open with the Russian diva outplayed for large portions of the contest, but using her experience to emaculate effect to squeeze past the reigning the left-handed Czech star in three tight sets to advance to the final at Melbourne Park. It was sweet revenge for Sharapova, having been blunted by Kvitova in the final of Wimbledon last year. Now the tables have turned, and it will be an opportunity for Kvitova to gain some semblance of vengeance when the duo collide once again in the semis of a Grand Slam with a spot in the final of the French Open at stake.
Their path to the semis couldn't have been more contrasting with Maria easily dismantling Estonian Kaia Kanepi in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3 while Kvitova battled back from a break down in the final set to win four straight games to record a hard fought 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova.
The Russian world no.2, Maria Sharapova, had been struggling with her serve in the last couple of rounds and that struggle continued today but she played the key points better than her opponent to book her semi-final spot at Roland Garros. Kanepi, the 23rd seed, who defeated former World no.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round had a nervous start today and despite getting a lot of opportunities like game points and break points, she was unable to take her chances.
Four double faults were committed between the two in the opening couple of games of the first set as Maria and Kaia traded breaks. But some poor serving from the Estonian gave Sharapova another break in the third game. Kanepi missed a few forehands and was playing catch-up in the rallies which were dictated by Sharapova and a good return of serve by the Russian gave her a second break in the seventh to go up 5-2 and serve for the first set. An out of control backhand, gave Kanepi a break point but the Russian drove a backhand up the line on the next point and brought the game to deuce. It took Sharapova three set points and two big serves to wrap up the first set.
As the second set began, Kanepi started striking the ball better and a double fault by Sharapova in the second game gave her opponent an early break. The 23rd seed was twice within a point of a 3-0 lead but Sharapova did well with her forehand returns and came from behind to break the Estonian to bring the set back on serve. After that there was no looking back for the Russian diva as she won 4 games in a row to be in a position to serve for the match at 5-2. A faulty service game by Sharapova denied her the match on her serve but in the following game she whacked some more forehand winners to close out the contest with consumate ease.
The other quarter-final which kicked off simultaneously on Court Suzanne Lenglen was nowhere near as simple as this one with massive momentum shifts and some scintillating tennis. Kvitova dictated play as she does in most of her matches, with her 38 winners and 32 unforced errors a testament to her 'go for it' style of play.
Shvedova raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening set before Kvitova knocked off the next 2 games to bring the set back on serve. Another 2 games in a row, this time for the Kazakh qualifier put her 5-2 ahead, and a game later she served out the first set to ignite hopes of an incredible triumph.
Kvitova was just getting started though and quickly went up 3-1 in the second set. The set lasted barely half-an-hour with the world no.4 romping through it, winning it 6-2 with another break of serve.
The drama was yet to come as Kvitova broke early to sneak ahead 2-0 in the final set before Shvedova, ranked an amazing 142, won four straight games to take a 4-2 lead. With 8 points separating Shvedova from an 8th straight win here in Paris, Kvitova decided it was time to bring out the heavy artillery, and quickly raced through the next three games to eliminate the break and pull ahead 5-4. Serving to stay in the match was always going to be a tricky prospect for the Kazakh, showing how crucial it was for Kvitova to break serve at the fag end of the second set. Petra needed two shots at the cherry, but was quick to break serve and book her place opposite Sharapova in tomorrow's semi-finals.
Following their meeting at the semi-final stage of the Australian Open, Maria and Petra have also faced each other on the red clay of Stuttgart with Sharapova winning 6-4, 7-6 (3) in a close contest. Kvitova has been struggling with her form post her Wimbledon victory but she is looking good in Paris this week and her quarterfinal win against Schvedova, who ousted defending champion Li Na in her previous round is good proof of her return to form. While Sharapova is aiming for a career Grand Slam, Kvitova will want to add another major title to her collection before she goes to England to defend her title at Wimbledon. There is added incentive for Sharapova, who by making it to the final in Paris, will replace Victoria Azarenka as the new world no. 1.
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