Murray Reaches Final Four of Australian Open as Sharapova, Kvitova Qualify

Andy Murray defeated Kei Nishikori to join Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Australian Open, while Maria Sharapova and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova completed the women’s final-four lineup.

Murray, the No. 4 seed from Britain, ended Nishikori’s bid to become the first Japanese man to reach a tennis Grand Slam semifinal in 79 years with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory at Melbourne Park, where he was the runner-up the past two years.

Murray, 24, wore down the 22-year-old Nishikori, who played two five-set matches on his run to the quarterfinals. Although Murray struggled with his first serve, getting only 44 percent in, he got 85 percent of his returns in against Nishikori, who was hampered by 39 unforced errors.

“He’s had a few long matches and I thought the first two sets he fought really well, there were a lot of close games,” Murray said in a televised court-side interview. “I didn’t serve particularly well. The returning was good, so that was a positive, but I need to improve my serve for sure.”

If No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia wins his quarterfinal tonight against Spaniard David Ferrer, it would be the third time in four Grand Slams that the top four men’s players made the semifinals. No. 2 Nadal of Spain and third- seeded Federer of Switzerland won yesterday to advance to their first semifinal showdown at a major since 2005.

Women’s No. 4 Sharapova beat Ekaterina Makarova to set up a rematch of the 2011 Wimbledon final against second-seeded Kvitova, who defeated the unseeded Sara Errani. Both women’s semifinals are scheduled for tomorrow, with the championship contest on Jan. 28.

Murray’s Winning Streak

Murray, who’s seeking to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam title since 1936, extended his winning streak in 2012 to 10 matches to advance to his fifth straight major semifinal. He tuned up by winning the Brisbane International earlier this month, his first tournament since hiring eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as his coach.

Sharapova beat fellow Russian Makarova 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinals in Melbourne for the first time since winning the title in 2008 for her third Grand Slam championship. She overpowered 56th-ranked Makarova from the baseline, hitting 26 winners and forcing her opponent into 25 errors.

Sharapova, 24, entered the tournament having not played an official tour match since October because of an ankle injury and has dropped just one set in advancing to the final four. She lost her past two matches to Kvitova.

Sharapova Against Kvitova

“She’s the one to beat right now,” Sharapova said of Kvitova. “I’m looking forward to the matchup. I don’t like losing so many times in a row.”

Sharapova, Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus each can clinch the No. 1 ranking at the end of the tournament after defending champion Kim Clijsters ousted world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki yesterday. Azarenka and Clijsters will meet in tomorrow’s first semifinal.

Kvitova, 21, earlier beat Errani 6-4, 6-4 to become the first Czech woman to get to the Australian Open semifinals since Jana Novotna in 1991. The last left-hander to take the women’s title was Monica Seles in 1996.

Kvitova recovered from 4-1 down in the second set against the 48th-ranked Italian to reach her third Grand Slam semifinal after final-four appearances at Wimbledon the past two years. She held serve for 4-2, then broke Errani’s serve to get the set back on track before winning the next three games.

“You have a little pressure on your back because you have a Grand Slam and everybody is expecting that you win all matches when you play,” Kvitova told reporters. “It’s not really easy. That’s why I’m really happy to be in the semifinal here.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes at Melbourne Park at dbaynes@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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