French Open: Sharapova, Azarenka braced for 'intense' battle
Victoria Azarenka expects another "intense" battle against Maria Sharapova Thursday when the pair open a new chapter in their uneasy relationship with a place in the French Open final at stake
World number three Azarenka takes on defending champion Sharapova, the second seed, in their first meeting on clay since their infamous shoulder charging in Stuttgart last year.
Sharapova won that clash but the final was overshadowed when the two statuesque blondes bumped into each other at the changeover, refusing, metaphorically and literally, to give ground.
"Maybe even more intense," was how Azarenka, the Australian Open champion and playing in her first French Open semi-final, described the potential atmosphere of the semi-final.
"I don't look at her if she's more intense than me or not. But she's definitely an incredible fighter, and she always fights for every ball no matter what the score is.
"That's something the top players are so good at, and that's what makes it difficult to play against them."
Azarenka takes a 7-5 career lead over the Russian into the match, but she has lost both their meetings on clay -- the infamous Stuttgart final from last year and in Rome in 2011 when she pulled up injured.
Sharapova, who suffered only a fourth 0-6 set wipeout in her Grand Slam career in her three-set win over Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, said there would be few surprises in what's expected to be a bruising contest.
"It's always a tough match. We have played each other so many times there are really no secrets between each other in terms of our game styles and what we do well and not. It's a semi-final and I'm looking forward to it."
World number one Serena Williams takes a 5-0 career lead over Sara Errani, the fifth seed and last year's runner-up, into their semi-final.
The top seed is on a career-best 29-match winning streak and if, as expected, she makes it 6-0, she will be favourite for her second title in Paris, 11 years after her first.
Williams is 13-2 head-to-head against Sharapova and against Azarenka she is 12-2. She has never lost to either on clay.
At just 1.64m, Errani is in the land of the giants -- Williams is 1.75m, Azarenka stands at 1.83m while Sharapova, at 1.88m, towers above them all.
But Errani, who lost 7-5, 6-2 to Williams on clay in the Madrid semi-finals last month, will rely on court craft and angles rather than raw power to drive her game.
"Physically she's an incredible athlete, so is not easy to play against her because she has a lot of power," said the Italian.
"So it will be tough, but maybe on clay it is a bit better than the other surfaces."