KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Holding her ground and her serve when Venus Williams mounted a comeback, Maria Sharapova erased six break points to close out a 6-4, 6-3 victory Thursday in the semifinals of the Nasdaq-100 Open.
The second-seeded Sharapova advanced to her first Key Biscayne final. On Saturday 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 semifinal showdown Friday night. Federer, bidding for his first Key Biscayne title, 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.
Federer has beaten Agassi six times in a row and eliminated him at the past two Grand Slam events. The other semifinal 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 quarterfinals.
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.
Both players held easily through the first nine games, before Williams wavered serving at 4-5. Sharapova hit two strong returns for the first break-point chance, and Williams sailed a forehand long to give the Russian the set.
Sharapova broke again and took leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set. She hit one forehand winner past the 6-foot-1 Williams from two steps behind the baseline.
When she closed out the victory, Sharapova sank to her knees and slapped the baseline with glee. Still three weeks shy of her 18th birthday, she's 22-2 this year and has staged a remarkable rebound from a 6-0, 6-0 loss two weeks ago to Lindsay Davenport at Indian Wells.
"That was a long time ago," she said.
Williams fell shy in a bid for her fourth Key Biscayne title and her first since 2001, but she drew encouragement from her first victory over Serena in 31/2 years.
"This is a great tournament for me," she said. "I feel very positive about my game."
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.
"She's hitting the ball better and harder than when she stopped," Mauresmo said. "She has all the confidence. She has nothing to lose."
Federer erased the only break point he faced and countered Henman's serve-and-volley tactics by winning 18 of 21 points at the net. Federer extended his winning streak to 20 matches and improved to 46-1 since the start of last year's U.S. Open.
He's trying to win his fourth tournament in a row.
"As the No. 1 in the world, you just don't want to give away victories to the other guys," he said. "Then they can say, 'I beat the No. 1 player in the world.' At least you want to make it tough for them. This is the motivation I have."
Agassi, at 34 the oldest player in the tournament, is two wins from his 60th title and first since October. He has lost six sets in a row to Federer.
"I'll have to really step it up Friday, that's for sure," Agassi said. "Seeing his form over the last year and a half, I'd say I'd have to be doing a lot of things well, no question about it."
With Dent hampered by a sore ankle in the second set, Agassi pulled away and finished with 24 winners to just seven unforced errors.
"If anybody can beat Roger," Dent said, "Andre can."
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