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Rediff.com  » Sports » Miami Masters PHOTOS: Li sets up final date with Serena; Nadal rallies into semis

Miami Masters PHOTOS: Li sets up final date with Serena; Nadal rallies into semis

Last updated on: March 28, 2014 14:10 IST

Miami Masters PHOTOS: Serena slays Sharapova, to face Li in final

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World No 1 Serena Williams continued her decade-long domination over Maria Sharapova with a clinical 6-4, 6-3 win on Thursday to reach her ninth Sony Open final.

The rematch of last year's final produced the same result as Williams, a six-time winner on the Miami hardcourts, ran her winning streak against Sharapova to 15 matches, a stunning run that stretches back to 2004.

Sharapova and Williams, who have both achieved a career Grand Slam and held the number one ranking, were expected to develop into one of the great rivalries in women's tennis.

But it has not quite worked out that way with Williams winning 16-of-18 meetings between the two.

In Sharapova's 16 losses, the Russian has only managed to take two sets off the 17-times Grand Slam winner.

"Despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against her because you learn so much from that type of level which she produces," said Sharapova. 

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Image: Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during her match against Serena Williams of the USA at the Miami Masters Sony Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, Florida on Thursday
Photographs: Al Bello/Getty Images

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'It's hard to always be at your best'

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"There is no reason for me to have any pressure because of my results against her.

"She's an incredible champion. That's the reason she's at the top.

"She's accomplished a lot, her tennis speaks for itself and I have nothing to lose out there against her."

Proving there is no place like home, Williams, who lives an hour's drive from the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, has won the Miami event more than any other tournament, the six titles one better than her five U.S. Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon Grand Slam wins.

She can add a seventh Miami trophy to her collection on Saturday against the winner of Thursday's other semi-final between Chinese world number two Li Na and Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova.

"I have always felt when I'm playing at my best, then it's hard for people to beat me," said Williams, winner of 58 career singles titles.

"But I have to get there, and it's hard to always be at your best.

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Image: Serena Williams of the United States reacts during her match against Maria Sharapova of Russia on Thursday
Photographs: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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Serena broke Sharapova twice to take the opening set

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"I think that is what's special, and that's why there is a lot of rivals now.

"I think every time you step on the court it's a rivalry. I'm just here to play tennis and, you know, play my matches."

A five-time runner-up in Miami, Sharapova had her chances to end the drought grabbing the early break in both sets but could not turn the advantage into a win.

The fourth seed stepped onto a blustery centre court looking focused and determined and was rewarded with the first break to go up 4-1.

But Williams was soon back in control breaking Sharapova twice as she swept through the next five games to take the opening set.

Sharapova also opened the second set with an early break to go 2-0 but again the 32-year-old American was ready, answering right back with a break of her own.

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Image: Serena Williams returns a shot against Maria Sharapova on Thursday
Photographs: Al Bello/Getty Images

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'There is a big gap for me to play even better'

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The Russian held serve just once more before Williams moved into high gear tearing through the last four games, putting an exclamation point on the contest by closing out the match with another break when Sharapova slammed a forehand return into the net.

"I didn't think I would be sitting here the way I was playing in the beginning of the week, so I'm excited to still be in the tournament," said Williams.

"I definitely feel better than what I did in my first couple of matches but I also feel there is a big gap for me to play even better and to be more consistent and get to the level that I was playing at a little bit last year."

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Image: Maria Sharapova of Russia returns a shot to Serena Williams on Thursday
Photographs: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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Li continues dominance over Cibulkova

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China’s Li Na won a rematch of her Australian Open final, beating Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 to maintain her perfect record against the Slovakian.

Li's mastery over Cibulkova may not span as many years but is no less complete, the Chinese veteran sweeping all seven of their meetings over a decade-long span.

Three of those wins have come this year, with Asia's first grand slam singles champion defeating the Slovakian in straight sets at MelbournePark, in three sets at Indian Wells two weeks ago and now at Miami.

"Good challenge. The last time I played her (Williams) was in the (WTA Tour) Championships so it has been four months and this time we really can see how I have improved," Li told reporters as she looked ahead to the final.

"I am really happy I can play her again. Everyone will be confident if they come to the final. I think for sure it will be a tough match."

The 10th seeded Cibulkova had looked ready to deny tennis fans a marquee final between the best two players in the world when she stormed back to take the second set and opened the third with a break to forge a 3-1 lead.

However, Li kept her composure and swept the next five games to cap an enthralling fightback and her spot in the final.

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Image: Na Li of China returns a shot to Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia on Thursday
Photographs: Al Bello/Getty Images

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Nadal wins battle of attrition against Raonic

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World No 1 Rafael Nadal took another step towards a first Miami title by out-slugging big-hitting Canadian Milos Raonic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the semi-finals of the Sony Open.

Nadal, a three-time runner-up on the Miami hardcourts, will play seventh seed Tomas Berdych for a place in Sunday's final after the Czech eased into the last four with 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov.

The other semi-final will see World No 2 Novak Djokovic take on Japan's Kei Nishikori, who has already beaten fourth seed David Ferrer and 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer.

Nadal's resume includes 62 career titles, including two this year but the Miami trophy has consistently eluded the 13-time Grand Slam winner.

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Image: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates match point against Milos Raonic of Canada on Thursday
Photographs: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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Nadal made service errors to gift Raonic first set

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The Spaniard, however, has been in brilliant form in Miami appearing determined to correct that oversight.

Raonic's booming serve, that included a couple at 140-mph plus, kept Nadal on his heels in the opening set but it was the world number one's own serve that let him down when he double faulted on break point at 5-4 down to gift the 12th seeded Canadian the set.

It marked the first time Nadal's serve had been broken in Miami and the unhappy Spaniard struck back by breaking Raonic twice to surge to a 4-0 lead in the second on the way to leveling the match.

He then gained the upper hand in the third set with a decisive break at 4-3 then held serve to complete the victory.

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Image: Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Milos Raonic of Canada on Thursday
Photographs: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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Berdych walked into the last four without dropping a set

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Earlier, Berdych quietly worked his way into the last four without dropping a set.

The match was briefly halted by rain with the score tied 4-4 in the opening set, but when the players returned to an overcast centre court Berdych took control, holding serve and breaking the 22nd seed to grab the 1-0 lead.

Dolgopolov hit back with an early break in the second on way to a 5-3 lead but Berdych broke the Ukrainian at 5-5 to help force a tiebreak which he easily won to register his 450th career match win.

"I was a break down since the beginning of the first set. Then break down in the second set, so it didn't look that well," said Berdych.

"But I managed, especially end of the second set, I hold pretty well and that's what I'm very pleased with."


Image: Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic returns a shot to Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine on Thursday
Photographs: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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