Sharapova, Jankovic head for tennis showdown

TOKYO: Maria Sharapova breezed past Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic at the Pan Pacific Open on Thursday to stay on course for a potential final showdown against Jelena Jankovic.

The Russian former world number one, champion here in 2005 but unseeded this year, shrugged off a service break down in each set before scoring a 6-4, 7-5 victory to advance.

Sharapova, who lost the opening game after a double fault, hit an easy forehand winner at the net to make it 4-4 in the eighth before taking the following two games and the set.

The 22-year-old again struggled with her serve in the second set, relying instead on a number of sizzling winners from Benesova's second serve.

"I think that's really the goal, to be aggressive, not to be passive. The goal is really to stay aggressive no matter what the points are in the match, what the situation is," said Sharapova.

"That's my game. That's how I always play. I'm a pretty aggressive player. I like to attack from the baseline, from serves and returns. That usually means that I'm going to make a little more errors."

For Sharapova it was her 13th consecutive singles win.

She claimed her first career WTA title at the 2003 Japan Open and defended the title the following year.

"It's always wonderful to come back to a place where you had such great success and good memories, and just feel like I really get the crowd's support," said Sharapova.

"It's really warm here towards all the players. I love coming here, I love the country itself, I love Tokyo, so it's always a fun trip."

Seventh seed Serb Jankovic, another former world number one, powered her way through to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Marion Bartoli, putting an end to her match-losing streak against the French 14th seed.

"Sometimes I dropped service games but I held many of them, and broke her serve a couple of times. I thought I did quite well," said Jankovic, reducing her record against Bartoli to 4-5.

"She is a good returner. Sometimes I hit good serves, but she broke back and used my power. So I tried to hit so hard first serves and mixed it up at times, which was the difference today. I put pressure on her when I was returning," she added.

Fifteenth seed Li Na celebrated China's 60th anniversary day with a hard-worked 7-6 (9/7), 4-6, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus for a place against Jankovic.

Eleventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland whipped Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-1 for the remaining semi-final spot against Sharapova.