Serena strolls into semis; Sharapova withdraws in Rome

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ROME -- Serena Williams is on the longest winning streak of her career. And she feels better than ever at age 31.

The top-ranked American rolled past Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-0 Friday to reach the Italian Open semifinals and extend her victory run to 22 matches.

Williams had twice won 21 in a row before, although both of those streaks came a decade ago, in 2002 and 2003.

Martina Navratilova established the longest women's win streak in the Open Era at 74 matches in 1984.

"I've been pretty consistent, and pretty healthy -- knock on wood," Williams said. "I feel great -- never felt better."

In the other half of the draw, two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova withdrew before her quarterfinal match against seventh-seeded Sara Errani due to illness.

In men's play, 36th-ranked Benoit Paire of France cruised past Marcel Granollers of Spain 6-1, 6-0 to reach his first Masters series semifinal. His next opponent will be either 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer or rising Polish player Jerzy Janowicz, who were playing in a night match.

Showing off near-perfect form less than 10 days before the French Open begins on May 26, Williams has dropped only three games in her last two matches. Against the 22nd-ranked Suarez, the American hit winners seemingly at will.

The 15-time Grand Slam champion has also won her previous three tournaments.

Williams will next face either two-time Rome winner Jelena Jankovic or Romanian qualifier Simona Halep.

Williams' only title at the Italian Open came in 2002, when she beat Justine Henin in the final. That was also the year she won her only French Open title. Last year in Paris, Williams suffered her first ever opening-round loss in a major, falling to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France.

Sharapova said he was struggling with an illness she first contracted last week, when she was runner-up to Williams in the Madrid Open, although she showed no problems Thursday as she beat 16th-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1.

"I was already a bit off in Madrid and played though it and it came back last night and I got sick again and it's not smart to compete again," said Sharapova, adding that she had a fever after beating Stephens. "Obviously with the French Open coming up it is important to make smart decisions."

The withdrawal means Errani advances to the semifinals. The Italian's opponent will be either third-seeded Victoria Azarenka or ninth-seeded Sam Stosur.

The last Italian to reach the Italian Open semifinals was Raffaella Reggi, who won the 1985 event in the southern city of Taranto.

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