TIANJIN (China) • Maria Sharapova swatted aside Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-1 in just over an hour at the Tianjin Open yesterday to reach her second semi-final since returning from a 15-month doping ban.
The Russian was broken in the first game but fought back to draw level before going on to take the first set with a hold to love.
The former world No. 1, targeting a first title since returning to the Tour in April, raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set as an error-prone Voegele struggled on serve.
Voegele handed Sharapova three match points when she made her eighth double fault of the contest while trailing 1-5.
The 30-year-old sealed the match with a forehand winner and will meet defending champion Peng Shuai today.
Peng, 31, had an easy game when she defeated Spaniard Sara Soribes Tormo 6-0, 6-1, and Sharapova is wary of the Chinese.
"Obviously she really likes playing here and is the defending champion, so she feels really good about the court and the atmosphere," Sharapova said to the press as quoted on the WTA website (www.wtatennis.com), when asked about her upcoming match against Peng.
"We haven't played in a long time and I know that it will be a tough match, just because it's the semi-finals and when you get to the latter stages it's not getting easier.
"She really likes playing here and is playing well, and I hope to rise to the occasion."
The odds are, however, in Sharapova's favour. The Russian has lost only once in their six previous meetings and should make her first final of the season.
Elsewhere in China, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal will play Marin Cilic in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters today after the Spaniard was forced to fight past Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3.
Nadal, who has never won the Shanghai showpiece, is chasing a seventh title in a brilliant season and a hat-trick of triumphs on the trot, having been crowned US Open and China Open champion in recent weeks.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner saw off the Bulgarian Dimitrov in Beijing last week but suffered some nervous moments in getting the better of him again in a quarter-final played in overcast conditions.
"Very happy, it was a very tough match, both of us played a very high level of tennis," said 31-year-old Nadal, the top seed.
"I enjoyed it, a great battle between two players that are playing all the time very focused and intense points all the time.
"A lot of matches in a row winning and very happy with everything, let's see what happens tomorrow, but being able to win in Beijing and now semi-finals here... (they're) tough events against tough players. Just focus on holding that momentum."
If Nadal wins in the semi-finals today, he could meet long-time rival and world No. 2 Roger Federer in a blockbuster finale.
The Swiss beat Richard Gasquet of France 7-5, 6-4 and will face Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the other semi-final.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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