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Originally published Monday, January 21, 2013 at 5:06 AM

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Sharapova impressive on way to Aussie Open semis

Maria Sharapova has lost only nine games in five matches on the way to the semifinals at the Australian Open. Always the perfectionist, she sees room for improvement.

AP Sports Writer

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MELBOURNE, Australia —

Maria Sharapova has lost only nine games in five matches on the way to the semifinals at the Australian Open. Always the perfectionist, she sees room for improvement.

Sharapova beat fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2 Tuesday and was asked afterward if she'd lost focus in only a few games this tournament.

"No, I'd probably say more," she said, "but that's probably because I'm critical."

If that's the case, she's a pretty tough taskmaster.

After opening with pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins, Sharapova beat seven-time major winner Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in the third round and Belgian Kristen Flipkens 6-0, 6-1 in the fourth.

Nobody has conceded fewer games on the way to the semifinals at the Australian Open, and her impressive streak comes after having played in no warm-up tournaments due to a right collarbone injury.

But after having advanced to the final here last year, losing to Victoria Azarenka in lopsided fashion, Sharapova is taking nothing for granted.

"To be honest, those are not the stats you want to be known for," Sharapova said, adding that she was more concerned about adding a fifth Grand Slam title and had spent plenty of time on the practice court.

Later Tuesday on the same Rod Laver Arena court, Novak Djokovic was attempting to stay in contention to win a third consecutive Australian Open title in a quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. The winner of that match will play David Ferrer in the semis.

The No. 4-seeded Ferrer survived once in the third set and twice in the fourth when No. 10 Nicolas Almagro was serving for the match, holding firm to finally advance to his fourth semifinal in six Grand Slam events with a 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win.

Sharapova's semifinal opponent had already been decided. Li Na beat Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 in the first of Tuesday's quarterfinals, breaking the Pole's 13-match winning streak to start the season.

It was the second straight year that Makarova has lost to Sharapova after knocking out a seeded player in the third round. Last year, she beat Serena Williams in the fourth round. Last weekend, it was No. 5-ranked Angelique Kerber.

Sixth-seeded Li didn't overly tax herself, either, in the quarterfinals.

The 30-year-old Li advanced to her third semifinal in four years at Melbourne Park.

"She's a tough player. I was feeling today against a wall," said Li, who lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters only months before her Grand Slam breakthrough at the French Open.

The quarterfinals on the other half of the women's draw will be held Wednesday, with American teenager Sloane Stephens taking on Serena Williams, who is aiming for a third consecutive major title, and defending champion Azarenka playing two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The first man through to the semifinals at Melbourne Park had a difficult time.

"It was (a) miracle I won this match, I think," Ferrer said. "I tried to fight every point, that's my game. I always fight."

Almagro dominated the first two sets and was serving for the match in the third when Ferrer bounced back, breaking in the crucial 10th game and then breaking his Davis Cup teammate again.

The fourth set featured eight service breaks, and Ferrer finally took control in a tiebreaker to force a fifth set.

Almagro has played 33 consecutive majors, but never reached a semifinal. This was his first Grand Slam quarterfinal on any surface other than clay - he reached three quarterfinals at the French - and he really took the match to Ferrer, the leading Spaniard in the tournament with the absence of 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal.

Almagro hurt his upper left leg late in the fourth set and needed a medical timeout before the fifth. After holding serve in a long game to open the fifth set, he quickly wilted after the first break.

On the last point, he hit a service return back into play and had already started strolling to the net as Ferrer prepared to hit the winner.

As he left the court, he gave his compatriot a friendly pat on the back as Ferrer packed his bag on the courtside chairs, then left Rod Laver Arena.

"In the important moments, I played more consistent in my game," Ferrer said. "Of course, in the next round, the semifinals, I need to play my best tennis, better than today."

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