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Friday, March 29, 2013
Serena superb in Sony semifinals

By Greg Garber

MIAMI -- Agnieszka Radwanska is often described as clever and crafty, but -- at least if you are on the other side of the court -- annoying is probably a more appropriate word.

She is the consummate counter-puncher. Thwack! Bloop. Thwack! Bloop. Thwack! Bloop. Out!

Ask Maria Sharapova, who lost to the 24-year-old Polish player here in last year's Sony Open final.

"The challenge against her is she's someone who just makes you hit so many balls," Sharapova said. "She reads the play very well. She has great eyes, good hand-eye coordination.

"She moves incredibly well, has good hands when she has time."

Ah, the all-important qualification: when she has time.

Radwanska is the WTA's No. 4 player because she wears out the lighter-hitting players ranked below her. Even less experienced heavy hitters, such as Sloane Stephens, can succumb to the human backboard. In her fourth-round match against Stephens, Radwanska dropped the first set -- and then frustrated the young American into dropping 10 of the final 12 games.

Serena Williams, of course, is neither a light hitter nor inexperienced. She doesn't give anyone time to set up and hit the ball, much less play keep-away.

Maybe that was why the defending champion got blasted off the court Thursday night. This was supposed to be the semifinal of one of the year's most prestigious tournaments, but it turned out to be a 6-0, 6-3 in a horrible wreck of a 65-minute match.

The biggest cheer of the night came 37 minutes into the match -- when Radwanska finally won her first game after losing the first seven.

The first set, for example, lasted only 25 minutes and Williams hit 19 winners to Radwanska's 3. The final tally was even a tad worse, 40-6, and that included 12 aces. And it wasn't all just power. A fair number of those winners were artfully carved, sublimely angled shots that left the court inside the service box.

"I didn't start out [the tournament] so well," Williams said afterward. "Felt good today. I've been practicing hard. On a couple of points I got lucky, hit the line when I thought it was out. I don't know if it's luck. I don't believe in luck, I believe in hard work."

Serena was so stone-cold good that the first sympathy cheer of the match, usually reserved for late in the second set, came in the third point of the third game. It got so bad that the wave even broke out -- in the fifth game. Radwanska spent so much time in her signature swinging defensive crouch, she seemed to be sitting down virtually the whole time.

When her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, came out after the first set and launched into an animated critique, Radwanska never looked him in the eye.

And so, it will be No. 1 versus No. 2 in Saturday's Sony Open women's final.

Earlier Thursday, Sharapova defeated Jelena Jankovic in another barn-burner, 6-2, 6-1 in 63 minutes.

Which raises an awkward question: Does Sharapova have a snowball's chance in ... Miami?

Certainly, they've had a bit of a cold snap down here, but nearly nine years of recent history suggest the answer is no. Sharapova is a dreary 2-11 versus Serena in her career and hasn't won a match against her since the 2004 WTA year-end championship final. Sharapova was only 17, coming off her breakthrough win at Wimbledon.

"Every match for sure is a new one," Williams said. "I love playing her. She brings out the best in me. Maybe that's it. I just like to play well against a great player.

"I expect a great match."

"I think it's a few things," Sharapova said. "They have been pretty quick matches. I played her in Doha and the Championships the last couple of times. I think it was one break in each set, or maybe one or two.

"I mean, she's a tremendous athlete, has so much power, and a confidence player, as well. So if you have a few easy games where, you know, you're not stepping in, not playing the way you should be, she takes really good advantage of it."

Agnieszka Radwanska can tell you all about it.