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Sharapova-Clijsters headlines U.S. Open women's semi-finals

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NEW YORK, Sept 8 (AFP) - Maria Sharapova, trying to add to her collection of Grand Slam titles, takes on a rival trying to start hers when she faces Belgian Kim Clijsters in the US Open semi-finals here Friday.

Sharapova, the Russian glamour girl who shot to stardom with her surprise Wimbledon triumph in 2004, has never beaten Clijsters in three career meetings, the most recent in the windswept final in Miami in April.

Clijsters herself said that match was no yardstick, and if she wants to continue her progress toward a first Grand Slam crown she'll have to be on her toes against the big-hitting 18-year-old.

"If the conditions are normal, it's going to be a completely different match," said Clijsters, winner of six WTA titles this year.

"I'll have to be running well, I'll have to be moving well, make sure I play aggressive tennis."

Both Clijsters and Sharapova cruised through their first four matches at Flushing Meadows, and survived tough quarter-final matches.

Sharapova defeated ninth-seeded compatriot Nadia Petrova 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 to reach the final eight, while Clijsters won 11 of the last 13 games to turn the tables on Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Sharapova has made it past the US Open third round for the first time, while Clijsters was runner-up to compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne here in 2003.

The second semi-final features a pair of giant-killers in sixth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia and French 12th seed Mary Pierce.

Dementieva, a two-time Grand Slam finalist last year, saved a match point en route to a third-set tiebreak victory over second-seeded American Lindsay Davenport.

Dementieva has the groundstrokes to go toe-to-toe with Pierce, but it remains to be seen if the Russian's service struggles will finally catch up to her. She has produced 62 double faults in her first five matchees, but so far it has only slowed and not stopped her.

Pierce, 30, dispatched her third-seeded compatriot Amelie Mauresmo in the quarter-finals, and the onetime world No. 3 is playing perhaps the best tennis of a long roller-coaster career has included Grand Slam titles in 1995 and 2000.

Pierce has won 21 of her last 23 matches and reached the final at Roland Garros and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Before her win over Mauresmo, she ousted seventh-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne in the fourth round, avenging her loss to the Belgian in the French Open final.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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