Sharapova holds off Venus; Clijsters wins

Associated Press

Key Biscayne, April 1:

Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams reached a crescendo in the final game, swapping shrieks that accompanied their shots in a series of furious exchanges. Sharapova was a little louder and a bit better. Holding her ground and her serve when Williams mounted a comeback, Sharapova erased six break points to close out a 6-4, 6-3 victory in the semi-finals of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

The second-seeded Sharapova advanced to her first Key Biscayne final. She’ll play unseeded Kim Clijsters, who extended her winning streak to 13 matches by routing top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo 6-1, 6-0.

Top-ranked Roger Federer and six-time champion Andre Agassi advanced to a semi-final showdown. Federer beat No 6 Tim Henman 6-4, 6-2. Agassi, seeded ninth, won the final eight games to defeat Taylor Dent 7-5, 6-0. The other semi-final will be an all-Spanish matchup between unseeded David Ferrer and No 29 Rafael Nadal.

Williams, seeded eighth, ended a streak of six consecutive losses to her sister by beating Serena in the quarter-finals. But with Serena watching from the stands, Sharapova refused to let Venus pull off another upset.

Hitting with the precision of a ball machine, only noisier, Sharapova consistently placed her powerful serves and groundstrokes within inches of the lines. The reigning Wimbledon champion punctuated each big swing with her familiar high-pitched grunt and committed just 12 unforced errors in 115 points.

By the end, the grinding rallies had Williams shrieking, too. The final game lasted 16 points, with both players racing corner to corner in pursuit of shots. Williams failed to convert her only break-point chances in the match and finally sailed a weary backhand long on match point.

Clijsters eliminated Mauresmo in 62 minutes, losing only 10 points in the second set. The Belgian, coming back from a career-threatening wrist injury that sidelined her for much of last year, won the Indian Wells title two weeks ago and has beaten five seeded players in a row at Key Biscayne.