Sharapova and Kuznetsova ease into last four

INDIAN WELLS, California Thu Mar 20, 2008 4:50am GMT

Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova returns a volley at the net against Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska during their match at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova returns a volley at the net against Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska during their match at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, March 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

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INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Former champion Maria Sharapova maintained her perfect start to the season to join fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semi-finals of the Pacific Life Open on Wednesday.

Sharapova, the Australian Open champion and fourth seed, stormed back from 5-2 down in the first set to beat holder Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 7-6 6-1 in an evening quarter-final at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The 20-year-old will face Kuznetsova in the last four after the second seed swept past Polish teenager Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 6-4 earlier in the day.

Sharapova, champion at Indian Wells in 2006, shrugged off a scrappy start to force a first-set tiebreak, which she took 7-2.

She then broke fifth-seeded Hantuchova in the second and sixth games of the second set to secure her 18th successive win of the year.

Kuznetsova, who was upset by Radwanska in the third round of the Australian Open in January, broke her 19-year-old opponent in the first and third games of the opening set on the Stadium Court.

After service breaks were traded early in the second set, the 22-year-old Russian, last year's final at Indian Wells runner-up, broke in the seventh game before serving out to seal the win.

"That was pretty good," Kuznetsova told reporters after reaching her third WTA semi-final of the year. "I played better in the first set and missed a few (opportunities) in the second but overall it was still pretty good.

"I'm confident playing out there and it was a good win for me after losing to her in the Australian Open."

Asked if she had carried any memories of her 6-3 6-4 defeat in Melbourne into Wednesday's match, she replied: "I think some signs of the Australian Open.

"I remember that I didn't do this well or that well and I still was close in the match. When I do everything right, this is the result which comes."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)

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