SWilliams, Sharapova win to reach Madrid quarters

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Serena Williams from U.S. returns the ball during the match against Maria Kirilenko from Russia at the Madrid Open tennis tournament, in Madrid, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

MADRID (AP) — Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova reached the quarterfinals at the Madrid Open on Thursday, with the two top-ranked players winning in straight sets.

Williams needed a little more than an hour to defeat Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-1, after Sharapova got past Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-2, 7-5.

Top-ranked Williams dominated Kirilenko, who dropped the first set with one of several unforced errors. The defending champion also used a strong serve and return game, working the 12th-ranked Russian back and forth on the baseline of the red clay court with her precise forehand drives.

"I just felt really relaxed, like I was taking my time," Williams said. "I had been missing my serve when I was hitting it harder, so I took some pace off and didn't hit as hard as I usually do.

"It was easy because when you take off pace you don't hit as hard and don't exhaust as much energy. And hitting a serve or a winner are both fun."

Williams will face Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, who reached the quarterfinals after Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew with a right arm injury.

The 15-time Grand Slam winner called Medina Garrigues a "grinder" and predicted a "tough match" in front of the Spanish crowd.

Williams beat Sharapova in the quarterfinals last year en route to the title. This year they are on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning they could only meet in the final.

Sharapova used her big serve to take the first set with relative ease, but Lisicki put up resistance in the second.

Both players traded early breaks in the second set before Sharapova converted a fourth break point when Lisicki returned her well-placed slice into the net.

Sharapova didn't waste the opportunity to serve out the match, hitting an ace and forcing Lisicki into three errors in the final game to finish the match.

"She is the kind of opponent that plays extremely well against the top players," said Sharapova, who lost to Lisicki last year at Wimbledon.

Sharapova will face either Daniela Hantuchova or Kaia Kanepi next.

The Madrid Open is a key warm-up tournament for the French Open, where Sharapova will try to defend her title.

"(Last year) was an incredible memory for me and one that I will have the rest of my life," she said. "I'm still very hungry to win it. When I have that type of attitude I work harder to that goal. I find a lot of motivation at going back and trying to defend my title."

Also Thursday, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will play third-round matches.