Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Jittery Maria reaches final

Russian ace Maria Sharapova shrugged off a less than convincing start to her Australian Open preparations with a three-set semi-final win Friday over compatriot Elena Dementieva in Hong Kong.

The world number two overcame the jitters that also marked her quarter final win over China's Yan Zi Thursday to snatch victory from the 2004 French and US Open finalist 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

"I felt like I improved as the match went on," said the US Open champion, who lost her serve three times in the opening set and twice in quick succession early in the second set.

A blistering 15-minute game secured the second set for the Russian, who from then on never looked like losing.

A downhearted Dementieva blamed her loss on her serve.

"I have to work on the serve, it is the weakest part of my game," she said. "In an exhibition match like this I like to mix up the shots but Maria was pretty solid in coming back at each of them."

Sharapova will play the winner of the second semi-final, between Belgian world number five Kim Clijsters and Switzerland's Patty Schnyder, being played later Friday.

Eight of the world's top women players competed in the annual Hong Kong invitational, which is seen as a key warm up for the season's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open.

Russia's world number two Maria Sharapova exults after winning a point during her semifinal encounter against compatriot Elena Dementieva in the Watsons Water Tennis Championships in Hong Kong on Friday. PHOTO: AFP