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Sharapova having fun in the sun

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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MELBOURNE, Australia

Maria Sharapova has a spring in her step and a smile on her face.

No wonder.

The former world No. 1 is playing some of her best tennis in years and, just as the sun came out Wednesday at Melbourne Park, she swept into the semifinals of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

“I see myself playing this sport for many more years because it’s something that gives me the most pleasure in my life,” she said after being queried about a remark she allegedly made when she was 18.

“I said I wasn’t going to play after 30? I don’t think I ever said 30?” she said with a laugh. “When I was 18, I probably would have said 25. But times change. I missed a year in my career. Then, a few weeks ago, I woke up and I was just so happy to be going back on court. I felt so fresh, full of energy, just a really good perspective.”

Maria, who is 24, was reminded that Jimmy Connors did not stop playing regularly until he was 40. “I can guarantee right now you’re not going to see me here at 40 years old,” she said, laughing again. “If I’m here at 40 years old, I have major problems — my goodness!”

Any hopes that Makarova had of building on her shock win against Serena Williams in the previous round were quickly eradicated as the fourth-seeded Sharapova came out hitting — hard, flat and firm. “She’s a great player, and she played really good today,” Makarova said afterward. “Maybe I couldn’t show my best tennis because all the time she was pushing me.”

FUN DOWN UNDER

See 2012's best sights and shots off the court, starting with the Australian Open.

Earlier, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova moved a step nearer another Grand Slam title when she beat unseeded Italian Sara Errani 6-4, 6-4. This was a more competitive match because Errani fought back well to lead 4-1 in the second set before the Czech’s powerful left-handed game overwhelmed her once more.

Errani, in contrast to her tall, strongly built opponent, is small and nimble and she used her nimble feet — developed in soccer, a game she plays well — to nip about the court and make some fine returns. For a while she played on Kvitova’s anxiety because the No. 2 seed was feeling the weight of expectation.

“I was a little nervous because I knew that everybody expected it would be an easy match,” she said. “Probably I had in my head that it’s a good draw. But, anyway, Sara played very well and I had to wait for the time when I could go for winners. My mistakes were lower, and that was the key in the second set.”

So now Kvitova will be playing Sharapova, the player she beat in the Wimbledon final last year. You can be sure Maria will be very serious about that.

“I’ve lost to her the last couple of times — obviously the big one at Wimbledon where she played really well,” Sharapova said. “I think she’s the one to beat right now, playing the best tennis of her career. I’m looking forward to the matchup. I don’t like losing so many times in a row. So I’ll certainly be going out there trying to play my best.”

With both women in top form, it should be quite a contest.

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