Serena-Sharapova collision looms in Paris

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Maria Sharapova (left) and Serena Williams AFP PHOTOS

PARIS: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova stayed firmly on course for a showdown in the French Open finals on Friday by swatting aside overmatched opponents.

They were joined in the last 16 by two other former champions—Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova—while the 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy made it through to the third round.

Williams and Sharapova, the two superstars of the women’s game have been duelling for the world number one spot for the last year along with Victoria Azarenka, and their rivalry is currently the biggest draw in the women’s game.

Neither was troubled on Friday as the rain that had bedevilled Thursday’s play let up to be replaced by cold, blustery conditions.

Defending champion and second seed Sharapova was first up, needing only four games and a handful of minutes to finish off her second round tie 6-2, 6-4 against Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard

The match had been suspended late Thursday when the rain came down again with the Russian second seed up a set and 4-2.

It was a lesson in big-time tennis for the promising 19-year-old from Quebec, who won the Wimbledon girls singles title last year and who was playing in her first Grand Slam tournament.

Sharapova, a teenage tennis sensation herself when she won the 2004 Wimbledon title at the age of 17, will go on to play former US and Australian Open semifinalist Zheng Jie of China.

She is now on a nine-match winning streak at Roland Garros having completed her collection of Grand Slam titles in Paris last year, the seventh woman in the Open era to achieve that feat.

“It was a pretty long day yesterday. Left here pretty late and then had an early morning,” Sharapova said.

“But, we all know what to expect. We all kind of knew the weather wasn’t going to be really good yesterday.

Top-seeded Williams, playing in the opening tie of the third round, needed just 61 minutes to dispose of Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-0, 6-2 and she has now lost just six games in three one-sided matches.

Cirstea, the 26th seed, who reached the quarterfinals in Paris in 2009, was facing an embarrassing whitewash after losing the first set 6-0 in just 23 minutes.

But she rallied briefly at the start of the second set and even had two break points to lead 3-2.

She failed to take either of these though and Williams simply stepped on the accelerator again to race away and end the remaining pockets of resistance from the Romanian.

The win was the 27th in a row for Williams—the best unbeaten run of her career—and it took her into a fourth round matchup against the winner of the tie between Roberta Vinci of Italy and Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic.

Williams is seeking the 16th Grand Slam title of her career, but just the second in Paris where she last won in 2002.

Still, she insisted she was not obsessed by winning the most prestigious claycourt title for a second time this year.

“Every slam is really my priority,” she said. “I would love to win this one, but there is still a lot of people in the draw that would love to win this tournament, as well. I’m just one of those”

Looming on the horizon for the American in a potential semifinals matchup against last year’s runner-up Sara Errani.

The Italian outplayed dangerous German Sabine Lisicki 6-0, 6-4 and the fifth seed has dropped just nine games in three matches to date.

The 2008 champion Ivanovic of Serbia easily beat France’s Virginie Razzano 6-3, 6-2, while 2008 winner Kuzentsova of Russia eased past Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).

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