Sharapova, Halep advance to semifinals at Shenzhen Open

In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, Maria Sharapova of Russia returns the ball during a quarter final match against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan at the WTA Shenzhen Open tennis tournament in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Mao Siqian/Xinhua News Agency via AP)
In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates after winning a quarter final match against Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan at the WTA Shenzhen Open tennis tournament in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, Jan. 4, 2018. (Mao Siqian/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

SHENZHEN, China — Maria Sharapova continued her preparations for an Australian Open return by beating Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-3 Thursday to advance to the Shenzhen Open semifinals along with top-seeded Simona Halep.

The five-time major winner dictated play against Diyas, hitting 24 winners and five aces to clinch victory in just under 90 minutes on Thursday.

"I didn't play my best tennis, and there's certainly a lot of things to improve on," Sharapova said. "The great thing is that I'm through and have another chance to play tomorrow."

She will play defending champion and No.6-seeded Katerina Siniakova for a place in the final. Siniakova beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-2, 6-2.

Sharapova missed the last Australian Open during a doping ban that dated back to a failed test for meldonium at Melbourne Park in 2016, and is keen to make a return to the season's opening major which starts Jan. 15.

Top-ranked Halep also eased into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Aryna Sabalenka.

Halep's 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over local favorite Duan Yingying on Wednesday ensured she will retain the No. 1 ranking for the Australian Open.

Irina-Camelia Begu advanced to the Shenzhen semifinals earlier Thursday with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Timea Babos.

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