Sharapova towers over Cibulkova to make Wimbledon semis

By Mark Meadows

Almost a veteran at 24, Sharapova is the last former champion left among the women following her victory in 2004 and she also reached the semi-finals at the recent French Open after battling back from a serious shoulder injury.

"It's great, the fact that I've had the experience of being in these stages," she told a news conference after making the last four at Wimbledon for the first time since 2006.

"But I haven't been for a while (at Wimbledon), so it's a nice and refreshing feeling to have."

Sharapova broke three times in the first set under the Center Court roof as she dominated 24th seed Cibulkova from the baseline and rain poured down outside.

Three further breaks in the second set meant victory, in just over an hour, was a mere formality on the grass.

"MORE INTIMATE"

Cibulkova beat Sharapova in straight sets on the Madrid clay this year and triumphed 6-0 6-2 in the French Open in 2009 when the Russian was struggling after her shoulder problems and wondered whether she would ever reach the top again.

"To be in the semis of Wimbledon is a bonus. To come back and play tennis after a big injury, I was just happy to be back on court," she added before sending out an ominous warning to her rivals having battered Cibulkova with her quick serve.

"As far as speed is concerned, I still feel like I can get a few more miles per hour. But I think that will come with time."

Many pundits thought she would lift the trophy at Roland Garros before meekly succumbing to eventual winner Li Na.

This time, however, nothing looks like knocking the fashionista off her stride and even her first appearance under the Wimbledon roof was to her liking.

"It's quite unique. Actually, the first few tosses it's quite different than a usual indoor court," she said after being watched by NBA player and fiance Sasha Vujacic along with U.S. Open golf champion Rory McIlroy.

"I love the sound of it, the sound of the ball when it hits the racket. Yeah, it seems more intimate."

(Reporting by Mark Meadows)