Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 85° Today's Paper


Sharapova and Williams a one-sided rivalry

Swipe or click to see more
Serena Williams of the United States returns a shot to Maria Sharapova of Russia
Swipe or click to see more
during the women's singles semifinal match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England >> Serena Williams served two aces in a row at 118 mph, straight up the middle in the first set. In her next service game, she served up two more aces, also up the middle, but one of them was on a second serve.

A few points later, Williams won a game with a 113 mph serve out wide. Maria Sharapova could only shake her head.

If Williams was going to do that well on all of her various serves and also use her athleticism to smother the court, there would be little recourse even for someone as competitive as Sharapova, and a familiar pattern would hold.

It has been more than 10 years since Sharapova was able to figure out Williams, and nothing changed in their semifinal encounter Thursday as Williams powered her way into the Wimbledon final with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Sharapova in glorious conditions.

It will be Williams’ first appearance in the Wimbledon final since 2012, when she won her fifth title at the All England Club.

“I think it definitely gets better,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the final here. I just feel really good just to be in another final, so it’s really cool.”

Williams will play Garbiqe Muguruza, a newcomer to the Wimbledon final. She beat Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in the other semifinal Thursday. On Saturday, Williams will seek to win her sixth Wimbledon title and surpass her sister Venus, who also has five.

Williams has won two out her three matches against Muguruza, but the Spaniard beat her 6-2, 6-2 in the second round of the French Open last year. That was Williams’ most lopsided loss in a Grand Slam.

“It’s great for her. It’s great for me,” Williams said. “She actually beat me before. She made me improve, so she has me on my toes. It’s not going to be an easy match, so I’ll be fighting a lot.”

Williams is unbeaten in majors since winning last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian and French Opens. 

A win here would match the “Serena Slam” she achieved in 2002-03. Williams would then need to win the U.S. Open to complete a true Grand Slam, a sweep of all four majors in the same year, something which hasn’t been accomplished since Steffi Graf did it in 1988.

If Williams wins, it will be her 21st Grand Slam tournament title, leaving her one behind Graf’s mark heading into the U.S. Open. 

Williams extended her career record against Sharapova to 18-2, including 17 in a row with only three of those matches going three sets. Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final for her first Grand Slam title, but the rivalry has been one-sided for more than a decade.

“I always expect her to play the best tennis against myself and a few other elite players,” Sharapova said. “She does always come up with great tennis. You have to be able not to just produce your best tennis, but more. Obviously it hasn’t happened for me.”

The last time Sharapova beat Williams was at the WTA final in November 2004, and their most recent meeting came in the Australian Open final, where Williams blasted Sharapova in two sets.

Williams is dominant against many players, but there is something in Sharapova that brings out her indomitable fighting spirit and piercing focus. Before the match, the two walked on court, not exactly together, but with Williams, the world’s best player, leading the way with headphones blocking out all distractions.

Sharapova, ranked second, followed about five paces behind, and there was not even the slightest acknowledgment from one to the other. These two combatants are not friends.

As much as Williams was dominating the match, Sharapova, also known for her competitive mind-set, refused to go easily, not on Centre Court. In the second set Thursday, with Williams leading, 

4-3, Sharapova won the first two points on Williams’ serve.

But Williams won the next four points with, among other things, a 121 mph service winner (up the middle again), a forehand winner and another service ace, followed by a fist pump and cry of “All right.”

“She played really well, and when she stepped up her game I was able to step up mine as well,” Williams said in a television interview after the match.

In the next game, Sharapova saved a match point on her own serve, then held to push Williams to a 10th game in the set. But in that game, Williams’ serve came to the fore again. She served three aces up the middle, one of them at 122 mph, then won the match with a service winner out wide.

In the other semifinal, Muguruza, a little-known 21-year-old Spaniard, barged into the final by beating Radwanska in a captivating match on Centre Court.

It was lopsided in Muguruza’s favor until Radwanska fought back to win six consecutive games and force a third set. But Muguruza overcame some nerves to hold on for the win of her life.

The last woman from Spain to reach the final of Wimbledon was Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1996, and the last winner was Conchita Martinez, two years before that. Muguruza said Martinez has been sending her encouraging texts, including tips on how to win at Wimbledon. They seem to be working.

Ranked No. 20 coming into the tournament, Muguruza was playing in her first Grand Slam tournament semifinal. Her previous best showings were back-to-back quarterfinal appearances at the French Open, in 2014 after she beat Williams in the second round, and this year.

“It’s a dream to be in the final,” she said after the 1 hour, 19 minute match, “but I really want to win this one.”

Muguruza used every square inch of the court to run Radwanska ragged in the first set, but Radwanska did the same to Muguruza in the second set, and both played fiercely in the third.

Radwanska did what she could to hold serve early in the second set, only to see Muguruza come back with a devastating service game of her own in which she scored three aces. But two games after that, Radwanska broke, which temporarily changed the trajectory of the match from being a virtual walkover.

Radwanska won the set and then won the first game of the third set by breaking Muguruza, who broke right back and then held her serve to take a 2-1 advantage in the decisive set.

At 2-2 and deuce, Muguruza served an ace up the middle that made her yell out in exaltation, and eventually won that game, too. Then came the turning point.

Leading, 3-2, Muguruza broke Radwanska with a dramatic break point. Radwanska chased down a lob with a full sprint to the baseline, hit the ball sky-high back over her head, pushed off the wall and then guessed right on Muguruza’s overhead smash. But she hit her forehand directly to Muguruza, who put the next shot away to confirm the break.

Radwanska eventually held her serve to put the onus on Muguruza, and some miscues by Muguruza betrayed some of her anxiety. She hit a backhand very long, then double-faulted. Radwanska had a break point, but her return of serve hit the net and bounced upward, landing just on her own side of the net.

It went to deuce. On a strange sequence, Radwanska stopped moving for a serve after it sounded as if people from her own box yelled out. After a review, the ball was ruled in and there was nothing Radwanska could do because the point could not be played over.

Muguruza won the next point, putting away a forehand winner and dropping to the court in an emotional celebration.

“I work all my life to achieve this moment,” she said.

Comments are closed.