Melbourne, Jan 23: Fifth seed Maria Sharapova demolished world number one Justine Henin at the Australian Open on Tuesday, ending the Belgian's 32-match winning streak and setting herself up as the new tournament favourite.
The Russian blitzed the top seed 6-4, 6-0 in a ruthless quarter-final display that had Sharapova's father Yuri making throat-slitting gestures from the sidelines when it was over. Henin's last previous defeat was in the Wimbledon semi-final last July, a winning run that included the US Open and made her the most dominant woman on the tour since Steffi Graf 18 years ago. But she was never in the match against the Russian, who held the Belgian to 6-0 love in a set for the first time since Jennifer Capriati achieved the feat in Montreal in 2002.
Sharapova, a former Wimbledon and US Open champion, rated it the best Grand Slam performance of her career.
"The stars were shining. It was just meant to be," the 20-year-old joked, before going on the put the win down to metal toughness, aggression, and meticulous preparation.
"I kept fighting and I was trying to get every single ball out there," she said.
"I came into the match really prepared to play a three- to four-hour match. I was ready for it. I was mentally and physically ready for it.
"I really felt like I was in my own bubble today," she added, denying any knowledge of her father's violent gesture.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Henin said she had no excuses after a defeat that ranks as one of the heaviest in her career.
"She just did everything better than me today," the shellshocked Belgian conceded, tipping Sharapova to win the season-opening Grand Slam.
"She served consistently, she was much more aggressive and looked it like it was her day and probably her tournament. She's in great shape."
Sharapova, out to avenge a humiliating loss in the final last year to Serena Williams, will meet Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals after the Serbian third seed ousted the defending champion earlier Tuesday.
The Russian stunned Henin with her aggression from the outset, the Belgian only able to win three points in the first three games.
She looked rattled at the ferocity of Sharapova's onslaught as the Russian took it to 4-1, holding a towel to her face between games while her opponent stared intently into the distance.
Sharapova attacked Henin's serve, forcing double faults at crucial points, injcluding one where the Belgian was serving to stay in the set at 5-2
Henin held on that time but bucked at 5-4, fending off three set points before netting a backhand to give Sharapova the first set after 61 minutes.
Sharapova extended her dominance in the second, with the world's top ranked player only able to defend 14 percent of her second serves against the rampaging Russian.
She looked shaken as she prepared to serve in the sixth to stay in the match and avoid a humiliating 6-0 second set scoreline.
She again came up short netting a backhand return to give Shrapova the match after 98 minutes.