By Paul Virgo
ROME (Reuters) - Serena Williams showed little ill-effect from her long layoff with a knee injury as she powered into the semi-finals of the Italian Open Thursday.
The American world number one, playing her first tournament since winning January's Australian Open, produced a display of power and panache to dispatch Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-1 6-4.
Serena, the 2002 Italian Open champion, was in control from the off, rattling the Russian by standing short on her serve and pouncing on any weak balls to drill home winning returns.
Her own serve was fearsome, zipping down at over 190kph on several occasions, and she notched seven aces.
Serena also showed she was in good physical shape, racing to the net to recover drop shots and tip them back for winners, as with the point that clinched the first set.
The only blot was that she allowed herself to be broken in the sixth game of the second set.
Serena conceded she had been rusty in her earlier games at this week's tournament, an important warmer for this month's French Open, but had promised to be "sexy" in the quarters and said she was satisfied that she had kept her word.
"Yeah, I think so," she told a news conference when asked if she considered the performance sexy enough. "It was fast and hot and sweaty."
Fourth seed Venus, the 1999 champion who is also returning from injury, faces twice former champion Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in her quarter-final later Thursday.
Former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic gave another indication that she might be regaining the form that lifted her to the top of the world rankings two years ago, brushing past Russian 14th seed Nadia Petrova 6-2 7-5
The Serb, who has fallen to 58th in the rankings, had claimed her first wins over top 10 opponents in 18 months this week by beating Elena Dementieva and Victoria Azarenka on the way to the last four.
She will now be up against unseeded Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, a 7-6 6-4 victor over Czech Lucie Safarova.
(Editing by Miles Evans and Pritha Sarkar)