Australian Open: ‘Execution’ the key as Maria Sharapova set to face Li Na

MARIA Sharapova has denied inside knowledge will be a factor in her Australian Open semi-final against Li Na and insisted it will come down to “execution” on the day.

There are links between the pair: Sharapova’s current coach Thomas Hogstedt is a former mentor of Li while the two players are managed by the same agent, Max Eisenbud. But Sharapova believes their off-court set-ups will have no bearing on their last-four clash tomorrow.

She said: “We’ve played each other so many times, before Thomas was my coach and since. We know each other’s games. Our coaches are not the ones going out on the court and playing against each other.

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“We’re certainly experienced enough and it’s all about execution and not the other factors.”

Sharapova has executed well in Melbourne so far, dropping just nine games in reaching the semi-finals – bettering the tournament record of 12 set by Monica Seles in 1991.

She beat Ekaterina Makarova yesterday 6-2, 6-2 in a repeat of the win over her fellow Russian at the same stage last year.

It was another one-sided encounter with Makarova, who was unable to make any impression on Sharapova’s high-intensity, big-hitting game.

“I thought today was going to be a really good test,” added Sharapova. “She has beaten quality players over the course of the last week and I know that she’s capable of playing well. She’s also a lefty, which is a bit tricky.

“So I thought I handled that pretty well and was able to keep my focus all the way through the match.”

Sharapova expects the Li encounter to be a much closer affair. “She’s had a great start to the year and is playing really well,” she said. “She was the most improved player towards the end of last year as well, so hopefully it will be a high-quality semi.”

Li made it to her third Melbourne semi-final after halting Agnieszka Radwanska who came into the match having won 13 straight matches, a run which included a victory over Li in Sydney, but she had no answer as the Chinese won 7-5, 6-3.

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Li was pleased to gain revenge for defeat a fortnight ago. “This time I was fit, not like last time (when) I was a little bit tired with all the travelling. At a grand slam you can play one day and then have the next day off. I was feeling much better.”