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Venus joins top-3 in semis
- Davenport, Sharapova, Mauresmo go through in straight sets too

London: The decibel level went up a notch at Wimbledon on Tuesday as defending champion Maria Sharapova moved ominously into the semi-finals.

After four rounds of gentle sparring, the 18-year-old Russian was given a real battle early on by compatriot Nadia Petrova on Court One before emerging victorious 7-6, 6-3.

“It was a tough match... it sends shivers down my body to be in the semi-finals again,” she said, after securing a last-four showdown with a revitalised Venus Williams who held off a stirring Mary Pierce comeback to win 6-0, 7-6.

While Sharapova’s thunderbolts were accompanied by a cacophony of ear-splitting yelps, it was the low rumbling of world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport’s seismic forehand that echoed round Court One later.

The top seed carried on where she left off against Kim Clijsters in the fourth round to outgun Russian fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6, 6-3.

Davenport, who won the first of her three Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 1999, will face Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo in the semis after the graceful third seed glided past battle-weary Russian Anastasia Myskina 6-3, 6-4.

Of the four Russians who reached the quarter finals, only the Florida-groomed Sharapova is still in the hunt.

Sharapova has become a worldwide brand since her stunning triumph against Serena Williams in last year’s final ' she has just launched her own perfume and strides the grass in gold-encrusted tennis shoes.

When she walks out on court, however, the multi-million dollar smile is replaced by the scowl of a streetfighter.

The athletic Petrova, who saved two match-points on Monday against Czech Kveta Peschke, was not about to slin-k away into the shadows aga-inst the queen of grasscourts.

Five years older than Shar-apova she matched her opponent blow for blow in the first 12 games to force a tie-break.

The bristling Sharapova thrives on pressure, however, and displaying the sheer bloody-mindedness that is as much a weapon as her sizzling groundstrokes, she moved into a 6-4 lead.

Petrova saved both set-points but Sharapova made no mistake at 7-6, hammering an unstoppable forehand past the eighth seed.

She hurtled into a 3-0 lead in second set and even when Petrova threatened to break back at 3-5, Sharapova was blessed with two lucky net cords as she closed out the match.

Venus, relegated to 14th seed this year, looked like the player who won consecutive Wimbledon titles in 2000 and 2001 as she pulverised Pierce in the first set.

The 30-year-old Pierce came to her senses in the second set and even had five set points in a dramatic tiebreak before Venus edged it 12-10 on her second match-point.

Davenport, 29, appeared on the verge of retiring this time last year when she lost in the last four to Sharapova. Fit, lean and mean, she now looks the biggest threat to the Russian.

Kuznetsova, who beat Davenport in the semi-finals of the US Open last year, has the game to write her name on the Wimbledon roll of honour, but never really threatened after losing the first set tie-break.

Davenport holds an 8-3 career lead over Mauresmo, although the Frenchwoman’s form here is raising a few eyebrows.

The 25-year-old was at her balletic best against Myskina as she glided into the semi-finals for the third time in her past three visits. (Reuters)

SEMI-FINAL LINE-UP

Davenport vs Mauresmo

Sharapova vs Williams

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