Maria Sharapova admitted that she needed to play far better after the Russian eased into the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open on Thursday with victory over Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
The former number one, who has worked her way up to 59 in the world rankings since her return from a doping ban last year, will face the Czech sixth seed and defending champion Katerina Siniakova in the last four in southern China.
The 30-year-old Sharapova, who is unseeded in the tournament that serves as a build-up to the Australian Open, is embarking on her first full season since returning from a 15-month drugs ban in April.
The five-time Grand Slam champion won the Tianjin Open in October for her first title since her suspension, but said after defeating Diyas 6-3, 6-3 in 89 minutes.
“I didn’t play my best tennis and there’s certainly a lot of things to improve on in the next (match),” said Sharapova who noted that she needs to get her unforced error count down.
“The great thing is that I’m through and have another chance to play tomorrow.”
Sharapova’s win took her back into the world’s top-50 but she assures that’s not her main focus right now.
“Those are not things I usually think about going into a match. So obviously statistically it’s nice to be back in that ranking but there’s a lot more things to work on,” said the Russian.
“Although it was a straight-sets victory I still believe that there’s a lot more I can improve on, looking forward and looking ahead as the challenges get tougher and as you get deeper in the field and also looking ahead towards the rest of the season.”
The other semi-final is between Irina-Camelia Begu and fellow Romanian Simona Halep, the reigning world number one.
Halep, guaranteed top seeding for this month’s Australian Open, blew away Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-2, 6-2.
“I think I played really well today,” said Halep. “I played exactly what I needed to play against this girl, who is very powerful, she is hitting very strong.
“So I had to be strong on my legs and just hit the ball, open the court as much as I can and just block some balls, which I did. Also I returned very well, I served very well, I think everything went very well for me today. I I felt that I played great tennis, the best match so far this year.”
Sharapova and Halep are each one win away from setting up a mouth-watering final in Shenzhen. The pair share a long history that includes a French Open final back in 2014, and have faced off twice already since Sharapova returned from her doping ban.
On a potential final against Halep, Sharapova said: “I think both of us still have a match ahead of us in order to get there but those are definitely the matches that not only the players look forward to but I think the tournament and the crowd. I want to be playing against the number one player in the world, if that means it’s in the final, there’s still time for that.”
Konta called for treatment to her right hip at the beginning of the third set but decided she could not continue and handed Svitolina the match 1-6, 7-6 (6), 3-2.
The retirement disappointed the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena, who had witnessed a fascinating match where Konta stormed through the first set before Svitolina regrouped and edged a high-quality second in a tiebreaker.
Konta joins top seed Garbine Muguruza (cramping) and fourth-ranked Caroline Garcia (lower back) as high-profile casualties at the season-opening tournament.
She is due to defend her Sydney International title next week ahead of the Australian Open but said she was unsure whether or not she would risk further damage before the year's first Grand Slam.
Andy Murray has withdrawn from the Australian Open, the tournament announced on Thursday.
“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete,” said Murray, who is a five-time finalist at the Australian Open.
“I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”
Murray had posted an emotional message on his Instagram account earlier this week, discussing his battle with a hip injury over the past six months. The ex-world No. 1 admits surgery is an option, but it is one he has been trying to avoid. He is yet to make a decision on his next move.
This is the first time since 2007 that Murray will have missed two consecutive Grand Slams, having also skipped the US Open last September.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley wished Murray the very best for his recovery.
“We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer,” Tiley said.
“Personally, I also know that Andy loves tennis and would do anything to play. This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it.
“We wish him the absolute best on his road to recovery and look forward to having him back in Melbourne. He is a true champion and one of our favourites.”