|Mary Pierce semi|
CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) _ Mary Pierce used an overpowering ground game to beat unseeded Peng Shuai of China 6-2, 6-2 Saturday and reach the title match at the Acura Classic.
The sixth-seeded Pierce dominated from the outset and gave the tired Peng few chances to pull off a fourth straight upset.
Ai Sugiyama will oppose Pierce in the final after Akiko Morigami retired in the second set of the other semifinal with a tendinitis in her right knee. Sugiyama was leading 6-4, 4-3 when Morigami called it quits in a matchup of unseeded players.
The match marked the first time two Japanese players faced off in a WTA Tier I semifinal.
Sugiyama, who has won all three career matches against Morigami, qualified for her first title match since January 2004 when she won a hardcourt tournament in Australia. Coming into the event, Sugiyama had failed to reach the quarterfinals in 18 straight tournaments.
"It's been awhile,'' Sugiyama said. "I'm so happy with the way I played.''
Sugiyama, who along with Pierce is 30, holds a 6-4 career lead over Pierce.
Pierce, playing the event for the ninth time, reached her second Acura final. She lost in straight sets to Lindsay Davenport in 1998.
"I was happy with the way I started out the match,'' Pierce said. "I was really playing well. I knew what I needed to do against her. She's a dangerous player if you let her play. The key for me today was hitting the ball hard, being aggressive, hitting it deep.''
Peng couldn't recapture the form that helped her beat seventh-seeded Kim Clijsters in straight sets Friday night and knock off third-seeded Elena Dementieva earlier in the week.
Fatigue may have played a role in the loss as the 19-year-old played slightly more than three hours Friday night between her singles match with Clijsters and a doubles match that lasted until 11 p.m. local time.
"I was really tired from last night,'' Peng said. "Today, I played like I was so tired.''
Pierce, ranked 14th and the only seeded player left in the semis, wasted no time in establishing herself. She broke Peng's serve in the first game at love and broke again in the fifth game for a 4-1 lead.
After Peng held serve to cut the lead to 5-2, Pierce fought off six break points in the eighth game before securing the first set with two aces.
The second set was almost just like the first, with Pierce breaking Peng's serve in the first game, and adding another break in the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead.
"As long as I was hitting the ball hard and hitting it deep, our rallies were not that long.'' Pierce said. "There was one way to beat her, and that was to be aggressive first.''
Peng, ranked 46th, capped her best week on the WTA Tour, becoming the first Chinese woman to reach a Tier I semifinal and recorded two of her three wins over top-10 opponents.
Sugiyama won the first six points of the match, and scored a service break in the second set. Morigami got back on serve when she broke through in the ninth game to draw to within 5-4. Morigami was faced with three break points when she was called for a foot fault, handing the set to Sugiyama.
Morigami, who reached first career final at Cincinnati three weeks ago, got off to good start in the second set when she broke Sugiyama's serve in the first game. However, Morigami committed another foot fault on her next service game to give Sugiyama the game.
With Sugiyama leading 2-1, Morigami called for the WTA trainer to work on her right knee during the break. Although the injury was not visible on the court, Morigami finally decided to quit after Sugiyama held her serve for a 4-3 lead.