Sharapova stays on course

Sharapova boosted her chances of a third title but first since 2012 in Rome by cruising past the Belarusian.

The third seed will next face 21-year-old Daria Gavrilova who reached the last four of a WTA event for the first time to set up an all-Russian semi-final after defeating fellow-qualifier Christina McHale 6-2 6-4.

Also, Simona Halep crushed Romanian compatriot Alexandra Dulgheru 6-1 6-0 in 56 minutes.

The second seed has been unstoppable in Rome, losing only seven games in three matches, and she next meets 10th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro.

The Spaniard eliminated last week’s Madrid Open champion Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-2.

Defending champion Serena Williams pulled out of the competition on Thursday citing a sore right elbow.