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Heavyweights ready for French Open semis

A repeat of the last year’s final between Sharapova and Sara Errani is still on the cards.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Picture: AFP

PARIS - Sparks will be flying and the grunt-o-metre will be working overtime when French Open holder Maria Sharapova comes face-to-face with Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the Roland Garros semifinals on Thursday.

While a clash between tennis' two loudest wailers is likely to increase sales of earplugs around the Bois de Boulogne area over the next few hours, the 13th match-up between the two will also be under close scrutiny for reasons other than the noise level it produces.

The last time they met on clay, in Stuttgart just over a year ago, the players bumped shoulders during a changeover and neither woman attempted to apologise for the collision.

As expected Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic set up a siesmic semifinal clash after comfortable wins against Stanislas Wawrinka and German veteran Tommy Haas respectively.

Seven-times champion Nadal, roaring back into top form after a poor opening week, crushed weary-looking Swiss Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 6-1 while world number one Djokovic was made to work harder by Haas before polishing off the 35-year-old 6-3 7-6(5) 7-5.

With Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Spaniard David Ferrer enjoying comprehensive wins on Tuesday all four men's quarterfinals at Roland Garros were won in straight sets for the first time since 1948.

In contrast all the women's last-eight ties have been tightly contested, even Victoria Azarenka's 7-6 6-2 defeat of Maria Kirilenko which featured a 76-minute opening set.

Sharapova pulled round a match in which she managed to get just 14 points in a first set to move through to a juicy-looking semi-final against Azarenka spoke volumes for the fighting spirit of the four-time grand slam champion.

"I wanted to put that chapter behind me," Sharapova said.

World number two Sharapova will be wary of making such a slow start against Azarenka on Thursday.

The Belarussian enjoys a 7-5 career record against Sharapova and says she is beginning to fall in love with clay after reaching her first semi-final at Roland Garros.

"But I feel like we made a step forward…Sometimes you just have to get the job done, and I did today," Sharapova said.

REPEAT ON CARDS

A repeat of last year's women's final between Sharapova and Italian Sara Errani is still on the cards, although Azarenka and world number one Serena Williams, who faces Errani, will have plenty to say about that.

Nadal had never lost a set against Wawrinka, who was bidding to become the first Swiss to last longer at a grand slam than Roger Federer since 2002, in their nine previous matches and was never in danger of doing so on Wednesday.

"It's the semifinals and doesn't matter if it's against Novak or against another player, because the player who wins is not going to be the champion of Roland Garros. It's just a semi-final," Nadal told reporters.

Djokovic played down the implications of meeting Nadal in the semis after ending Haas's bid to become the oldest man to reach the last four at Roland Garros since 1968.

"We are in good form. This is it, you know. This is the biggest matchup of our Roland Garros 2013 campaign for both me and him," he said. "I need to be very disciplined and focused in order to get emotionally, physically, and mentally ready for that match."

Haas gave it his best shot against Djokovic, pushed him hard in the second set on a sun-bathed Suzanne Lenglen court and even broke the Serb when he served for the match but ultimately the exertions of the past week and a half caught up with him.