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Sharapova, Halep advance to semifinals at Shenzhen Open

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SHENZHEN, China — Maria Sharapova continued her preparations for an Australian Open return by beating Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-3 Thursday to advance to the Shenzhen Open semifinals along with top-seeded Simona Halep.

The five-time major winner dictated play against Diyas, hitting 24 winners and five aces to clinch victory in just under 90 minutes on Thursday.

“I didn’t play my best tennis, and there’s certainly a lot of things to improve on,” Sharapova said. “The great thing is that I’m through and have another chance to play tomorrow.”

She will play either defending champion and No.6-seeded Katerina Siniakova or Kristyna Pliskova for a place in the final.

Sharapova missed the last Australian Open during a doping ban that dated back to a failed test for meldonium at Melbourne Park in 2016, and is keen to make a return to the season’s opening major which starts Jan. 15.

Top-ranked Halep also eased into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Aryna Sabalenka.

Halep’s 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over local favorite Duan Yingying on Wednesday ensured she will retain the No. 1 ranking for the Australian Open.

Irina-Camelia Begu advanced to the Shenzhen semifinals earlier Thursday with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Timea Babos.

Sharapova wins, Ostapenko loses at Shenzhen Open

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SHENZHEN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova had 11 aces and saved seven of 10 break points to beat Alison Riske 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday and advance to the Shenzhen Open quarterfinals.

The five-time major winner will next face Zarina Diyas, who upset third-seeded Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

“Although I would’ve wanted a quick and easy victory, these are the kind of matches that you need, especially with such a short preparation going into the Australian Open,” Sharapova said.

Earlier, Kristyna Pliskova, the twin of former No.1-ranked Karolina Pliskova, beat French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 6-4.

Ostapenko, who beat Serena Williams in an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, was overwhelmed by Pliskova’s powerful serves.

“I felt a bit nervous in the second set, but my serve was really working today, which was a big help,” Pliskova said.

Pliskova will next play Ana Bogdan, who beat Camila Giorgi 6-4, 6-2.

Aryna Sabalenka also advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Danka Kovinic, while Timea Babos defeated Magda Linette 6-2, 6-1.

Maria Sharapova loses in the fourth round of US Open

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NEW YORK — Maybe this was just one three-setter too many for Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova tried a bit of everything, even resorting to switching over her racket to hit a few lefty shots. Still, the five-time major champion could not quite keep her Grand Slam comeback from a doping suspension going, losing in the fourth round of the U.S. Open to 16th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday.

This was the third time in her four matches that Sharapova went the distance and she faded down the stretch, while also dealing with a right hand that was treated and taped by a trainer in the final set. Sharapova’s miscues kept closing exchanges, and she dropped 13 of the first 14 points in that set.

The 30-year-old Russian finished with 51 unforced errors, compared to 14 for Sevastova.

Sharapova hadn’t played in a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium. She served a 15-month ban for that, returning to the tour this April with a ranking too low to get into Grand Slam events.

The French Open denied her a wild-card invitation, then she planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon before pulling out because of an injured left leg.

But she was able to enter the U.S. Open thanks to a wild card from the U.S. Tennis Association, which then proceeded to put its 2006 champion in Arthur Ashe Stadium every time she played over the past week, drawing strong support from spectators — and criticism from another former No. 1-ranked woman, Caroline Wozniacki.

Sevastova made Sharapova run a lot by pulling her forward with drop shots or tight angles, then would often deposit follow-up strokes into open spaces. On one point won by Sharapova in the second set, she twice tracked down lobs that she got back over the net by hitting the ball left-handed.

But she could not sustain enough strong play, and Sevastova advanced to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

That’s where she will face unseeded American Sloane Stephens, who reached her first quarter in New York by eliminating No. 30 Julia Goerges 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Stephens has won 12 of her past 14 matches, a remarkable run for someone who was off the tour for 11 months because of foot surgery in January.