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Sharapova stops Henin’s run

Russian and Daniela Hantuchova advance to the Australian Open semis.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams stumbled one round short of a rematch, so Maria Sharapova had to unload a year’s worth of retribution on somebody else.

Justine Henin caught the brunt of it.

Sharapova advanced to the Australian Open semifinals for the fourth straight year with a convincing 6-4, 6-0 win over top-ranked Henin, snapping the Belgian star’s 32-match winning streak.

“Even though I beat Justine, it’s definitely not over,” the 20-year-old Russian star said. “I still have a lot of business to take care of.”

Defending champion Williams had slumped 6-3, 6-4 earlier in the afternoon to third-ranked Jelena Jankovic, who reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the first time and only the third time in a major.

Ninth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova made the semifinals at a major for the first time when she beat Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 6-2 today. The 24-year-old Slovakian player had not been to the second week of a Grand Slam tournament since her quarterfinal exits at three consecutive majors, ending with a loss to Venus Williams in the Australian Open in 2003.

“It feels great. I kept fighting for every point, even in matches I wasn’t playing very well,” she said. “I kept believing I could do it, and here I am.”

She could get a semifinal shot at Venus Williams, who was playing No. 4-ranked Ana Ivanovic later Wednesday in her first quarterfinal at Melbourne Park since losing the final to her sister, Serena, in ’03.

Serena Williams was unseeded and ranked No. 81 when she made her stunning run to a third Australian and eighth Grand Slam title here 12 months ago, punctuating that with an emphatic 6-1, 6-2 win over Sharapova in one of the most lopsided Grand Slam finals.

It was a big setback for Sharapova, who struggled with a shoulder problem for most of the season and her ranking slipped outside the top 5.

But the winner of two Grand Slam events started returning to her best at the WTA championships in November before losing in three sets to Henin in three hours, 24 minutes — among the dozen longest women’s tour matches in the Open era.

She turned the tables in only 1:38 on Tuesday, inflicting the first 6-0 set on Henin since 2002.

“I really felt like I was in a bubble,” No. 5 Sharapova said. “I think it was one of the most consistent matches where I did all the things I wanted to do, and I did them correctly from the beginning to the end ... and just played the way I can play.”

Henin, who struggled with her serve and was broken five times by Sharapova, said she had a minor concern over a lingering knee injury but put the end of her winning streak down as an inevitability.

“It’s very hard to be at your best level all the time,” she said. “I’ll have to think about that and build again for the future.”

Sharapova will be looking back for lessons to take into the semis against Jankovic, her old tennis academy pal.

“Ever since the juniors we’ve always played really tough and we’ve always battled it out, and it’s great to see her in the semis,” Sharapova said. “It’s great we’re playing together.”

Jankovic has two Serbian compatriots in the quarterfinals Wednesday, with Ivanovic against Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic playing David Ferrer of Spain.

Defending champion Roger Federer goes against No. 12 James Blake in the night match.

Blake is 0-7 against Federer, who beat him in the 2006 U.S. Open quarterfinals.

But he’s taking heart from Federer’s last two matches, when he was taken to 10-8 in the fifth set against Serbia’s Janko Tisparevic and had to save set points against Tomas Berdych.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the only player to beat Federer at the last 10 Grand Slams, advanced to his first Australian Open semifinal with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 24 Jarkko Nieminen of Finland.

“Maybe I wasn’t playing my best match, my best tennis today, but it was enough,” the three-time French Open champion said. “It’s a good moment for me, first semifinals on hardcourt, Grand Slam.”

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