CARSON (California): Serena Williams had to battle from a set down in the third round to join top seed Maria Sharapova (pic) in the Los Angeles Open quarter-finals on Thursday.
Playing her second tournament in seven months because of a knee injury, Williams overcame Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a match littered with rasping winners and unforced errors.
Sharapova, however, made short work of Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition to complete her seventh victory in a row.
The 19-year-old Russian, who claimed her second title of the year at the San Diego Classic on Sunday, was hardly troubled as she set up a meeting with compatriot Dinara Safina in the last eight.
Safina, the fifth seed, beat American Laura Granville 6-2, 7-6 in an earlier third-round match.
Seventh-seeded Hantuchova took full advantage of an erratic Williams to breeze through the opening set before the twice champion raised her game.
After breaks of serve were traded at the start of the second set, Williams again broke the Slovakian in the fourth game and held on to level the match.
Williams, unleashing a series of ferocious backhand winners, broke her opponent in the seventh game of the deciding set before holding serve to clinch her fourth win over Hantuchova in five career meetings.
If it had to be three sets, I'm just glad I was able to come back with a win, Williams told reporters.
The first set was definitely a nightmare. I felt that I got off to a slow start. I never felt out of it but I was making some errors.
I don't feel like I was aggressive tonight at all, added the former world number one, who had her left ankle strapped after falling late in the opening set. Maybe a little bit into the match. I wasn't playing well at all.
Hantuchova, who beat Williams in straight sets in the Australian Open third round in January, was frustrated after wasting her early advantage.
I felt like I was in control but I let her get back, she said. She started to go for her shots more and cut down on her unforced errors. Until then, I felt I was doing all the right things.
Sharapova, dominating from the baseline, hit 38 winners and broke Bartoli six times before coasting to victory in 73 minutes on another hot afternoon at the Home Depot Center.
It was the Russian's second straight-sets win over the 15th-seed Frenchwoman in their two career meetings.
Why would I want to make it any longer than I have to? Sharapova said.
I won't really say I overpowered her but I took advantage of the short balls and her second serve, which was about 85 mph.
She started to play better in the second set and I made a few errors and was a little up and down. But other than that, it was fine.
The last time Sharapova played Safina, in the fourth round of the French Open, she lost in three sets after leading 5-1 in the decider.
I don't feel I have any more Christmas presents in my suitcase, so I hope I don't give any away tomorrow, Sharapova said of their quarter-final.
But I'm not going to look back. Tomorrow is a new day and hopefully a new result.
In other matches, third-seeded Russian Elena Dementieva beat Israel's Shahar Peer 7-5, 6-3, American wildcard Bethanie Mattek eased past Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-1, 6-1 and Serbian 10th seed Ana Ivanovic upset German sixth seed Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 6-4. Reuters