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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Can Sharapova avenge Wimby loss?

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- There is no shortage of divas on the women's tour. Petra Kvitova, according to her affable coach, David Kotyza, isn't one of them.

"She's a very nice person," Kotyza said. "She's staying nice, even if she's playing very bad. If she plays good, she's the same person. For me that's good because we spend a lot of time together in the season."

For the record, Kvitova, the tall, powerful Wimbledon champion, isn't playing badly. Her 6-4, 6-4 win over little Italian Sara Errani moved her into the semifinals of the Australian Open and closer to the No. 1 ranking.

She's lost one match since the middle of October.

Her next opponent is Maria Sharapova, whom Kvitova downed at the All England Club to open her Grand Slam account in July.

Kotyza proclaimed himself mostly pleased with Kvitova's display against Errani, despite his lefty charge falling behind 4-1 in the second set. It was another typical swoon in a Kvitova encounter. As she tends to do nowadays, Kvitova, the second seed, stormed back, taking the final five games of the match.

Any discussion about Wednesday's proceedings is sure to be frank. Such is their relationship.

"I can tell her what I think," Kotyza said. "It's not necessary to think how and when. With [women's players], sometimes it's more difficult to say when and how than what. With Petra I can speak to her very, very open, and it's a big advantage. She has a very open mind and is a very open person."

Presumably, falling behind against Sharapova isn't how Kotyza would write the script for Thursday's matinee.

"It's necessary to be on a high level the whole match," he said. "When they played at Wimbledon, she stayed focused throughout the match, and it was [6-3, 6-4], but I think it was closer than the score. She's definitely looking forward to it. She likes big matches against the really good players."

Kvitova said she had to avoid being "hectic."

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova seeks her first Grand Slam title since winning the Aussie Open in 2008.

Sharapova relishes these types of matches herself, even if she acknowledges Kvitova "is the one to beat right now." And Sharapova isn't the sort to engage in mind games; she was simply being honest.

Whether Sharapova's serve can hold up is an issue for the fourth seed, who also has an opportunity to snare the No. 1 spot. In the Wimbledon final, Sharapova unraveled -- surely because of the imposing figure on the other side of the net -- and struck six double faults. The more at stake, the more doubles, it seems.

Sharapova likely has surpassed most people's expectations by landing in the final four. When the draw was released, her quarterfinal challenger was supposed to be Serena Williams.

Ekaterina Makarova did Sharapova a huge favor by knocking out Williams in the fourth round, and Sharapova, who is on the rebound from an ankle injury, in turn coasted past her fellow Russian 6-2, 6-3.

"I'll certainly be going out there and trying to play my best," Sharapova said. "She was certainly the better player [at Wimbledon]. She played quite deep and hard, served extremely well. The chances that I had, she just came up with better shots in the match."

Kvitova has been doing that against almost all of her opponents for a while.

Prediction: Kvitova in two

Victoria Azarenka (3) versus Kim Clijsters (11)

Azarenka keeps on progressing.

Proof came in her quarterfinal against the wizardry of Agnieszka Radwanska. Azarenka lost the first set in a tiebreaker 7-0.

The old Azarenka would have capitulated. But the third seed hung tough and, in the end, eased past her Polish pal 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-2.

"Maybe two years ago, I would be like, 'OK, it's not working today,'" said Azarenka, the third player in the mix for the No. 1 ranking. "I'm going to try, but we'll see how it goes. [On Tuesday] I really tried to forget about the first set and start from zero and really fight hard, take it one at a time and keep going."

In Clijsters, however, she could be meeting a player of destiny. Not many save four match points, as the defending champion did in the fourth round against Li Na.

"That will probably never happen again in my career, so I was relieved after that," Clijsters said.

Clijsters, despite playing with an injured ankle, backed it up by ousting outgoing No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 7-6 (4). There was, however, a slight wobble, as Clijsters relinquished a 5-2 lead in the second set.

The Belgian spoke of the confidence she gained after rallying versus Li, and she'll gain more confidence from her 4-2 head-to-head record against Azarenka.

Prediction: Clijsters in three

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.