Rome, Italy (SportsNetwork.com) - Reigning French Open champion Maria Sharapova and 2014 Roland Garros runner-up Simona Halep easily reached the semifinals Friday at the Italian Open, a clay-court French Open tune-up.
The third-seeded Sharapova spanked unseeded fellow former world No. 1 star Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-2, while the second-seeded steady Romanian Halep soundly whipped qualifier fellow countrywoman Alexandra Dulgheru 6-1, 6-0 at Foro Italico.
Sharapova is now 8-7 lifetime against Azarenka, including wins in their last four matchups. The Russian topped the Belarusian at Indian Wells earlier this season and also bested Azarenka in a quarterfinal here in Rome in 2011.
Sharapova has now captured all four of their clay-court WTA encounters.
The veteran Sharapova titled in Rome back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, while Azarenka was the 2013 runner-up to Serena Williams, who pulled out of the draw here on Thursday, citing an elbow injury.
Up next for Sharapova will be qualifier fellow Russian Daria Gavrilova.
Halep's semifinal opponent on Saturday will be 10th-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro, who upset fourth-seeded Czech left-hander Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2 on Friday. The reigning Wimbledon champion Kvitova was fresh off her title in Madrid last week.
Another quarterfinal result saw the unheralded 21-year-old Gavrilova douse American qualifier Christina McHale 6-2, 6-4.