MIAMI (AFP) - Serena Williams extended her dominance of Maria Sharapova on Thursday, defeating the Russian 6-4, 6-3 to reach the final of the Miami hardcourt tournament for the ninth time.
World number one Williams will be seeking a second straight Miami crown - and the seventh of her career - on Saturday, when she takes on either Australian Open champion Li Na of China or Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova in the women's final of the combined WTA and ATP Masters event.
Sharapova, ranked fifth in the world and seeded fourth, seized the first break in each set, but couldn't build on her advantage as she went down to Williams for a 15th straight time.
Williams leads their career head-to-head 16-2, and Sharapova's two victories in the rivalry came back in 2004, when a precocious 17-year-old Sharapova beat Williams in the finals at Wimbledon and the WTA Championships.
Sharapova gave herself plenty of chances to reverse almost a decade of futility, breaking Williams once en route to a 4-1 lead in the opening set only for Williams to roar back, winning five straight games to take the set.
"I knew that I could play better," Williams said of keeping her composure in the face of the big deficit. "I knew I could pick it up a level.
"It wasn't easy. Obviously Maria plays really well ... I just decided I had to do a little better, stay focused and make more shots," added Williams, who finished with 21 winners to 22 unforced errors and eight aces.
After breaking for a 2-0 lead in the second, Sharapova took a 40-15 lead on her own serve, but Williams chipped away and gained the break to put the set back on serve.
She broke Sharapova at love for a 4-3 lead, and broke her again to seal the victory after an hour and 37 minutes.
Williams, sporting the colors of the NFL's Miami Dolphins of which she is a part-owner, was surprised when an on-court interviewer told her she was in a ninth Miami final.
"That's pretty awesome - I didn't realize," she said. "But I just love playing here in Miami. This is my home." For Sharapova it was another disappointing finish in Miami, where she has reached five finals but never lifted the trophy.
In Thursday's second semi-final, world number two Li was seeking to improve her perfect 6-0 record against 11th-ranked Cibulkova.
Li beat Cibulkova in the Australian Open final in January to claim her second career Grand Slam title, and downed the Slovakian again in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells this month.
Li beat former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals on Wednesday while Cibulkova survived three match points en route to a victory over world number three Agnieszka Radwanska.
Li said she expected a tough match against Cibulkova, and she'd be focused only on the task at hand and not on prior victories.
"Every city is different, every court different, ball different. Just looking forward for tomorrow. She's playing well, I'm playing well. (We'll) just see who can be better."