Maria Sharapova looking for 'tough' match

ROBERT GRANT
Last updated 17:22 23/01/2013

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If Maria Sharapova's expectation of a high-quality Australian Open match against Li Na is realised it will at least be a novelty.

Given her commanding record against Li and the fact she has lost just nine games en route to the semi-finals it is hard to believe the Russian is anticipating a gruelling showdown.

She leads 8-4 in head-to-head matches overall and won all three clashes between the pair last year.

One in the Italian Open went to three sets; in the other two Sharapova conceded a total of just seven games.

Yet she insists she is in for a test.

"I've beaten her the last few times that we've played, but they've always been really good matches, really tough matches," Sharapova said.

"I certainly expect it in the next one.

"She's had a great start to the year and is playing really well. She was the most-improved player towards the end of last year as well, so that will be hopefully a high-quality semi."

Sharapova, the second seed and winner of the Open in 2008, is in fearsome form.

Li might be 30 but has emerged from a brutal off-season training regime under new coach Carlos Rodriguez in formidable shape.

"She certainly stepped up her game," Sharapova said.

"I think at different times in a player's career you need that extra motivation, you might need a change."

But she cautioned there was unlikely to be any dramatic revelations when the two clash on Thursday.

"She's been there, she's done that. She's a grand slam champion," Sharapova said.

"It wasn't like she needed someone to come in and fix her game. I don't think that was really the plan.

"But sometimes when you just have a different surrounding and a new voice, they might be saying the same things but it just gets to you a little bit differently and your motivation changes."

Li, seeded sixth, is into her third Australian Open semi-final. She was runner-up to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and a semi-finalist the previous year.

Li acknowledges she will have to somehow find a new level if she is to topple the rampaging Russian.

"She's a more aggressive player on the court, she's fighting a lot," Li said.

"It should be tough match."

 

THE CRUCIAL NUMBERS FOR MARIA SHARAPOVA'S AUSTRALIAN OPEN SEMI-FINAL WITH LI NA (PREFIX DENOTES SEEDING):

2-MARIA SHARAPOVA (RUS) leads LI NA (CHI) 8-4

2012 Beijing, hard, SF, Sharapova 6-4 6-0
2012 Rome, clay, F, Sharapova 4-6 6-4 7-6
2012 Miami, hard, QF, Sharapova 6-3 6-0
2011 Istanbul, hard, RR, Li 7-6 6-4
2011 French Open, clay, SF, Li 6-4 7-5
2010 Birmingham, grass, F, Li 7-5 6-1
2009 Birmingham, grass, SF, Li 6-4 6-4
2009 French Open, clay, R16, Sharapova 6-4 0-6 6-4
2006 US Open, hard, R16, Sharapova 6-4 6-2
2006 Birmingham, grass, R16, Sharapova 6-2 6-4
2006 Miami, hard, R64, Sharapova 6-2 6-4
2005 Australian Open, hard, R32, Sharapova 6-0 6-2

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MARIA SHARAPOVA (RUS)

Age: 25
Ranking: 2
Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Career prize money: $US23,151,623 ($A22.03 million)
Career titles: 27
Grand slam titles: 4 (Australian Open 2008; French Open 2012; Wimbledon 2004; US Open 2006)
Australian Open win-loss record: 39-8
Best Australian Open performance: champion 2008

LI NA (CHI)

Age: 30
Ranking: 6
Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Career prize money: $US9,461,614 ($A9.05 million)
Career titles: 7
Grand slam titles: 1 (2011 French Open)
Australian Open win-loss record: 26-7
Best Australian Open performances: finalist 2011

- AAP

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