Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova Cruise to French Open Semifinals

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PARIS — Maria Sharapova returned to the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in more than three years, cruising past Andrea Petkovic 6-0, 6-3 Wednesday at the French Open.

The three-time major champion, who can complete a career Grand Slam with a title at Roland Garros, last reached this stage when she won the 2008 Australian Open.

"I put a lot of work in to be in this stage of the Grand Slams," Sharapova said. "I'm really happy that it's here. I'm going to have a chance to go further."

Five-time champion Rafael Nadal reached the semifinals and improved his career record to 43-1 by eliminating the only man to beat him, fifth-seeded Robin Soderling, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

A sixth Roland Garros title would allow No. 1 Nadal to tie Bjorn Borg for the most in history.

Nadal and Soderling have played each other in Paris three years in a row. In 2009, Soderling defeated Nadal in the fourth round en route to a runner-up finish. In 2010, Nadal beat Soderling in the final.

Finishing out the semifinals is No. 4 Andy Murray of Great Britain, who cruised past Juan Ignacio Chela 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 6-2, meaning the men's semifinals will be the top four players in the world. No. 2 Novak Djokovic will face no. 3 Roger Federer in the other semifinal, on Friday.

Sharapova had little trouble against Petkovic, a German who lost in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Sharapova won the opening eight games and overcame two breaks to take the second set.

Sharapova will face Li Na of China on Thursday. The Australian Open finalist defeated fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-2.

Sharapova improved her Grand Slam quarterfinal record to 11-3 by beating Petkovic. All three of her losses came at Roland Garros.

Petkovic wasn't able to use her dominant serve against her opponent on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

"Definitely my serve wasn't as good as the previous matches before, so she took full advantage of it," said Petkovic, who beat Sharapova in the fourth round at the Australian Open. "In the second set I came back, and it was just maybe for an instant I could have turned the match. Unfortunately, I couldn't take the chances that I had."

The one time Sharapova previously reached the semifinals in Paris, she lost to runner-up Ana Ivanovic in 2007.

"There's no doubt that I've improved on this surface," Sharapova said. "There's no doubt that I felt, as the years went on, that I felt better and better."

Besides the Australian Open title, the seventh-seeded Russian also won Wimbledon in 2004 and the U.S. Open in 2006. With a title at Roland Garros, Sharapova can become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam.

"This is my second time [in the semifinals] at Roland Garros, and my goal, just looking at myself, is just to take it a step further and try and take it to the finals and see what happens," Sharapova said.

Li is more of a surprise in the French Open semifinals.

Although she became the first Chinese player to reach a major final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at this year's Australian Open, the sixth-seeded Li seemed stunned.

"After I win the match I was feeling, 'Wow! I can play semi in Roland Garros,'" Li said. "I never think about that before. So many people think I'm not so good in clay court, but I think now they should change a little bit."

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