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Sharapova helps set up 'power' final

Maria Sharapova wins her semifinal match in straight sets to return to the final for the first time in seven years.

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Maria Sharapova wins her semifinal match in straight sets to return to the final for the first time in seven years.

WIMBLEDON, England — The women's final at Wimbledon on Saturday will lack the world's No. 1 player, Caroline Wozniacki, reduced to a competitive footnote by her early ouster.

It also will lack Venus and Serena Williams, Wimbledon victors nine of the past 11 years but too rusty, given illness and injury, to seriously contend.

But with 2004 champion Maria Sharapova and rising star Petra Kvitova pummeling their respective semifinal opponents Thursday, the final, said nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova, will deliver "big-babe tennis": powerful hitting by powerful athletes who relish competition rather than shrink from it.

The 6-foot-2 Sharapova, eviscerated wild card Sabine Lisicki, 6-4, 6-2, to reach her first Grand Slam final in 31/2 years. Sharapova has yet to lose a set in pursuit of what would be her fourth major title, and one that would eclipse all others after shoulder surgery in late 2008 nearly derailed her career.

The 6-foot Kvitova lacked Sharapova's laserlike focus but was rewarded for her unbridled aggression against fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka. Kvitova stormed into her first Grand Slam final by blasting 40 winners past Azarenka, who had nine, en route to a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 upset.

"I think we're seeing the new players taking charge," said Navratilova, 54, referring to Kvitova, Azarenka, Lisicki and Germans Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges. "Most of all, they're playing to win. That's what I like to see: They're not scared out there. They're playing forceful tennis."

At 24, Sharapova hardly qualifies as an old player. But it has been seven years since she won Wimbledon. That also was the last time she was in the final, and that gap is the longest for a woman at Wimbledon in the Open era, which began in 1968.

"It's been many years, but it's a really great feeling," Sharapova said. "(Thursday) wasn't my best match of the championships, so I was real happy to get through in two sets."

Though Sharapova is the odds­makers' favorite Saturday, her serve clearly is a liability, one Kvitova will likely exploit more successfully than Lisicki.

While her focus strayed in the second set, Kvitova regrouped in the third and started yanking Azarenka around the court with massive wallops of her forehand and wicked backhand slices.

"It was a nervous match, for sure," said Kvitova, 21, whose first memory of Wimbledon is watching fellow Czech Navratilova win on Center Court.

Sharapova helps set up 'power' final 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 10:17pm]
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