WIMBLEDON, England - Maria Sharapova's coach called it "a statement."
For exactly one hour of excellence, Sharapova played — and sounded — exactly the way she did when she was a teenager, when it seemed nothing could stop her.
Those powerful-as-ever groundstrokes cut through the grass, landing right were she wanted. Those solid-as-ever service returns flummoxed her overmatched opponent. And those loud-as-ever shrieks bounced around Centre Court, its retractable roof shut to keep out the rain.
Simply put, Sharapova dominated 24th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-1 Tuesday to reach the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time since 2006 — back in the days before she needed surgery to repair her right shoulder and dealt with doubts about the future of her career.
"I would have loved for it not to have taken that long, but I'm not complaining. It's the road that you sometimes have to take. It's not always straight; there are a lot of zigzags. A lot of time, you feel like it's a dead end," said Sharapova, who won her first Grand Slam title at age 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
"I've worked really hard to get in this stage, but I'm not saying this is where I want to end," she added. "I want to keep going."
A day after the Williams sisters and No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki were sent home, the three women responsible for those upsets all lost:
On Thursday, Sharapova will meet Lisicki, and Kvitova will face No. 4 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who got to her first Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over unseeded Tamira Paszek of Austria in the day's last match.
"Looking at the rankings, everybody says, 'You should have been already in the semifinals,'" said Azarenka, who moved to the United States when she was 12 and now lives part of the year in Arizona. "It was a great win for me."
Her quarterfinal was suspended because of rain after one game outdoors on Court 1; they eventually were moved indoors at Centre Court.
"I'm glad we managed to play today," said Azarenka, whose highlight was a full-sprint forehand that curled around the net post and landed in for a winner. "Thank God for the roof again. It's just amazing."
A heavy storm during the Lisicki-Bartoli quarterfinal violently pelted the roof, drowning out the normal noises of tennis, including rackets hitting balls, and line judges' calls. During the second game, one particularly loud thunderclap startled Lisicki as she was about to serve. She flinched and stepped off the baseline, then smiled sheepishly.
"Yeah," Lisicki said, "that was a little bit different."
Sharapova was Tuesday's only participant with a Grand Slam title already on her resume. She has three, part of a quick rise to the top of tennis: ranked No. 1 at 18; 2006 U.S. Open champion at 19; 2008 Australian Open champion at 20.
But her shoulder operation in October 2008 not only kept her away from the tour for several months, it also forced her to tinker with her service motion and made her question when she'd again play as well as she once had.
Sharapova went more than three years between Grand Slam semifinals, until getting that far at the French Open earlier this month. Now she wants another major title.
"It's great, the fact that I've had the experience of being in those stages. But I haven't been for a while, so it's a nice and refreshing feeling to have," Sharapova said. "I've put a lot of work in."
The first game Tuesday was the only time Cibulkova held serve; Sharapova broke her six times.
Hitting deep, flat forehands and backhands, Sharapova finished with a 23-3 edge in winners, marking most with a high-pitched shriek. She limited herself to 10 unforced errors, one fewer than Cibulkova, who beat Sharapova in the 2009 French Open quarterfinals.
All in all, according to Sharapova's coach, Thomas Hogstedt, "It was a statement."
"It's been, I think, a struggle for the last few years," Hogstedt said, "and step-by-step, she has been working hard to come back. ... It's been a process. I don't think she believed this (would happen) a half-year ago."
When her victory over Cibulkova ended, 60 minutes after it began, Sharapova raised both arms and yelled, "Come on!" Leaving the court, Sharapova pulled out a pink pen, ready to offer the autographs being requested by fans in front-row seats.
Clearly, she's done this all before.
Given what she went through the past few years, a Wimbledon championship now would be more gratifying than past accomplishments.
"Absolutely," Sharapova said, "it would mean more to me."
Rafa Nadal made short work of his great rival Roger Federer to win the Italian Open, while Serena Williams took down Victoria Azarenka in the women's final.
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