Melbourne: Second seed Maria Sharapova powered into the Australian Open final with a straight sets 6-3, 6-2 demolition of 10th seeded fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2008, will play the victor of an all-American semi-final between top seed Serena Williams or the unseeded Madison Keys.
The 27-year-old said it felt “special” to defeat Makarova and make a ninth career Slam final, her fourth in Australia,
“Playing a fellow Russian and playing someone who maybe wasn’t the favourite going into the semi-final, I knew she would come out and play really well,” the reigning French Open champion said.
“I was ready for that and stood my ground and competed well.”
Sharapova went into the match with a 5-0 record over Makarova and always looked in control, despite intially struggling with her serve in blustery conditions on Rod Laver Arena.
She was forced to defend two break points as she double faulted twice in an opening game that stretched for 10 minutes, finally holding after winning a 17-shot baseline rally.
She then broke Makarova with a blistering forehand down the line off a tame serve, going on to hold her compatriot to love in the next game and make it 3-0.
Makarova, appearing in only her second Grand Slam semi compared to 18 for her opponent, yelled at her coaching box during the changeover.
She held on to get on the board but was again pressured by Sharapova, who appeared untroubled by the left-hander’s serve.
But the Muscovite regrouped and switched tactics against her high-profile compatriot, attacking the net more and earning a break to go back on serve.
It was a temporary reprieve, with Sharapova rising to the challenge by breaking back immediately then serving out the set after 48 minutes.
She continued to dominate with an early break in the second, the stunned Makarova looking close to tears at times between points.
She desperately tried to stave off a second break with an wild arcing lob in the third game but Sharapova was waiting at the net to smash it home and go up 3-0.
Makarova salvaged some pride by holding serve twice before Sharapova completed the rout after one hour 27 minutes. (AFP)