Maria Sharapova, of Russia, fourth seed, reaches for a forehand return during her womens singles quarterfinal match against compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, fifth seed, on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005.
AP Photo/Rick Stevens
MELBOURNE, Australia Serena Williams shrugged off the searing heat and beat second-ranked Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2 Tuesday to set up a semifinal showdown against Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.
Williams, who won the championship in 2003 but couldn't defend the title last year because of a knee injury, slammed 23 winners and needed just 71 minutes to beat Mauresmo.
''I feel great,'' she said. ''I played really well I was just really focused.''
Williams converted breakpoint chances twice in each set against Mauresmo, who had 27 unforced errors and was hampered by a thigh injury.
Williams didn't win a major title in 2004, lost the Wimbledon final as the two-time defending champion to Sharapova.
Russians have won the last three Grand Slam titles, and two of those champions met Tuesday in a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park.
Sharapova overcame U.S. Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, with both players struggling in the heat.
Kuznetsova failed to hold any of her last eight service games and gave the 17-year-old Sharapova a match point with a double-fault.
Sharapova, whose screeching increased with every shot, whipped a running forehand crosscourt winner to close out the match in 2 hours, 17 minutes. She dropped her racket and flung both arms in the air.
''I need a wheelchair right now,'' said Sharapova, on the verge of exhaustion. ''Just mentally, I tried to tough it out.''
The temperature at the start of the match was 87 degrees, and rose to 91 degrees, but a warm, dry wind made it feel hotter on center court.
Serena raced through her quarterfinal and said heat wasn't a big factor. While her match was in progress on center court, matches on outside courts were suspended under the tournament's extreme heat policy.
Organizers won't allow matches to start after the temperature reaches 95 degrees, and other factors, including humidity and the temperature on court, reach set limits.
No. 4 Marat Safin beat 20th-seeded Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in the first of the men's quarterfinals, and the first match of the tournament played under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena.
He hit 33 winners and said he was glad not to be playing in the baking sun.
''It was a great match for me I played the best tennis I could,'' said Safin, who lost the final to Roger Federer here last year.
Safin faces the winner of Tuesday's later quarterfinal between top-ranked Federer and four-time champion Andre Agassi.
Williams said she was looking forward to a rematch with Sharapova, who has won their last two matches.
''I have to just focus on my next match,'' she said. ''We played a couple of times. She's been doing great.''
In the first match, Sharapova and Kuznetsova took a 10-minute break between the second and third sets. During breaks between games, they put ice packs and wet towels on their necks.
Each constantly walked into the small patches of shade on the edges of Rod Laver Arena.
''It was so hot on the court it's very, very hot,'' said Sharapova. ''I just try to concentrate on what I have to do ... block it out. But it was one of the toughest (matches) of my life.''
Kuznetsova finished with 53 unforced errors and got less than half of her first serves into play, giving Sharapova plenty of chances to pounce on second serves.
''It was just terrible,'' said Kuznetsova. ''I was very focused and I play very well first set. And after something happened, so I just stopped. I mean, like my body was there, but my mind wasn't there at all. It was just, I don't know, ball boy playing out there.''
Sharapova seemed to be struggling the most, leaning on her racket and hanging her head, then coming out to try to convert the heat into steam in her shots. Kuznetsova often found herself waiting to serve while Sharapova slowly made her way to return.
People in the crowd used fans, towels and caps to keep the sun at bay.
On Monday, Venus Williams' Grand Slam drought continued. Facing three match points, she stumbled chasing a ball, and her off-balance forehand flopped into the net, giving Alicia Molik a 7-5, 7-6 (3) upset in the fourth round.
''I feel like that was one I definitely should have won. I just was off of my rhythm,'' the eighth-seeded Williams said. ''I definitely didn't produce my best tennis, that's for sure.''
She made 28 unforced errors, two more than the 10th-seeded Molik, who faces top-ranked Lindsay Davenport in the quarterfinals. Davenport cruised past No. 13 Karolina Sprem 6-2, 6-2 and has dropped just one set in four matches.
Molik is the first Australian woman in the Open quarterfinals since Anne Minter in 1988.
Two other top women lost Monday: French Open champion Anastasia Myskina and No. 6 Elena Dementieva, the runner-up at the French Open and U.S. Open. In men's action, No. 2 Andy Roddick, No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 9 David Nalbandian and No. 26 Nikolay Davydenko moved into the quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Myskina had 45 unforced errors in her 6-4, 6-2 loss to No. 19 Nathalie Dechy, a 25-year-old Frenchwoman in the quarterfinals of a major for the first time in 37 appearances.
Dementieva led 12th-seeded Patty Schnyder by a set and two breaks before losing 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a match marred by 116 unforced errors.
Williams lost 13 games through three straight-set wins before facing Molik and thought she was in decent form.
Roddick struggled with the serve of Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber but smacked 15 aces and overcame a second-set letdown to win 6-3, 7-6 (8), 6-1.
He next faces Davydenko, who beat No. 12 Guillermo Canas 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Hewitt overcame a sore right hip to beat unseeded Rafael Nadal 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
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