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Headliners Swept Out of Semifinals

Times Staff Writer

The needle hit empty at close to the same time for two tennis players at the Home Depot Center, one in the hot afternoon sun and the other under the lights.

For tennis fans looking for a marquee final today, and executives looking for the potential of decent television ratings, the wrong two were in a fruitless search of a second wind -- Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

Undone and straight out of the JPMorgan Chase Open on Saturday.

First, Sharapova toppled against a familiar opponent, Russian countrywoman Elena Dementieva. The third-seeded Dementieva defeated No. 1 Sharapova, 7-5, 6-2, in 1 hour 45 minutes in the afternoon semifinal, ending Sharapova’s eight-match winning streak, finally winning it on her seventh match point.

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A few hours later, a leg-weary Williams succumbed under the night lights to the resilient No. 16 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who was able to absorb Williams’ power as well as deliver blows in the form of a potent backhand, winning, 6-4, 6-3, in 1 hour 20 minutes.

One statistic from each match helps tell how today’s final ended up between Dementieva and Jankovic, a woman who seriously considered quitting tennis earlier this year when she went through a 1-10 stretch.

Aces: Jankovic 5, Williams 2.

Double faults: Sharapova 8, Dementieva 7.

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“I thought I could maybe put together a game or two, but then I’d just deflate,” Sharapova said.

For her, it was a matter of playing nine matches in 13 days and an exhausted Sharapova withdrew later in the day from the next tour stop in Montreal, which starts Monday.

Dementieva, who had lost to Sharapova twice this year, was tired too but seemed more durable despite having left the court later than Sharapova on Friday night.

“The doubles late last night helped me a little bit because I was a little tired and I didn’t go for too much today,” Dementieva said. “I was very patient and I was doing the right thing today.”

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For Williams, jumping back into the deep end was going to take a physical toll after a six-month layoff. This was her second event since returning from a knee injury in mid-July.

It might have been a case of too much tennis, five consecutive days, with back-to-back three-setters in the third round and quarterfinals. Her final shot, an overhead into the net, summed up the cumulative fatigue.

As Williams said, “It’s important to be ranked in the top eight.”

Williams, a wild card ranked No. 110, is working her way back. Had she been seeded among the top eight at Carson, she would have had a first-round bye and wouldn’t have faced someone such as No. 7 Daniela Hantuchova as early as the third round.

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“I still believe I’m going in the right direction,” Williams said. “I’m definitely doing better than I was my first week back. It’s nice to have another tournament under my belt. I don’t feel I did super bad in this tournament.”

Her conditioning may not be there quite yet, but her moxie seemed in fine form. Williams was asked about the challenge of facing the world’s best at the U.S. Open later this month.

“They’ll be playing the world’s best as well,” Williams said.

Williams called Jankovic “an interesting player,” and the match had its interesting moments. Jankovic, who appeared to be hitting the ball back to a ball kid, inadvertently hit Williams, who looked annoyed. Later, Jankovic ducked dramatically when Williams hit an overhead.

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They spoke at the net, and Williams later said she did not think Jankovic was playing games.

“I don’t think she hit it toward me,” Williams said. “I think she has a habit of blasting balls from the other end of the court. ... There’s so much of the court, and she should choose the other spot.”

Jankovic said Williams “asked me about those balls that I hit, but I didn’t mean to hit on purpose. She told me, ‘I know you are nice girl and you didn’t mean to do that, but you almost hit me.’ But I didn’t see that.”


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