SERENA Williams gives pet names to her various character traits whereas Maria Sharapova, who will try to prevent the American claiming a 16th grand slam title in today’s French Open final, usually sticks rigidly to the ice maiden routine.
Defending champion Sharapova has been more beauty or beast in the last couple of rounds, however, mixing brilliance with woeful interludes, with aces and winners often being matched by doubles faults and wild errors. The “good” Maria, the one that served 12 aces against Victoria Azarenka in Thursday’s semi-finals, will have to show up if she is to stand any chance of preventing the world No 1 lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup 11 years after her first triumph. Second seed Sharapova needs to produce an almost flawless display if she is to become the first woman to retain her Paris title since Justine Henin in 2007.
While Serena dropped only a set enroute to the final and annihilated Saran Errani 6-0, 6-1 in the semi-final, four-time grand slam winner Sharapova survived a 6-0 drubbing in the first set of her quarter-final with Jelena Jankovic and then needed more than two hours to go through the semis, grinding past Azarenka in an error-strewn clash.
“If Sharapova serves well, there will be a contest,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena’s coach. “Sharapova moves better (on clay) but not well enough yet.” Mouratoglou believes Williams, who is on a 30-match winning streak, has her fate firmly in her own hands after prevailing in all 12 of their matches since the 2004 Tour finals. “Serena will start with a psychological advantage, for sure. The result will not depend on Sharapova but on Serena,” he added.
Sharapova, however, clings to the notion that the final will start at 0-0. “I’d be lying if (that record) doesn’t bother me,” the Russian said. “Whatever I did in the past hasn’t worked, so I’ll have to try to do something different. Going into a French Open final, that [record] doesn’t matter. It all starts from zero.”
Serena agreed, saying: “It’s a different time, a different era, just a different match. It’s a brand new match.”
Sharapova refutes the idea that her baseline-bashing profile is one-dimensional, saying she did not get to her second final by chance. “No matter how good she’s playing, you also have to give yourself a bit of credit for getting to that point and doing a few things right to be at that stage and giving yourself an opportunity,” said Sharapova. “Whether you take it, that’s another story.”
It will also be a matter of consistency for Sharapova, who has yet to find the perfect balance on the Paris clay this year. In her run to the final, she made 185 unforced errors in her six matches while Serena made 100.
The semi-final encapsulated Sharapova’s problems as she served 12 aces but also 11 double faults, spraying unforced errors and winners with equal measure. Serena in contrast fired 40 winners and allowed Italian fifth seed Errani – last year’s finalist – only 16 points, making herself a hot favourite to succeed today.
It is quite a change from 2002 when she beat sister Venus in the final. “I was really surprised, for sure. I didn’t go into that match expecting to win,” Serena said. “I just thought, ‘Hey, I’m in the final and let’s see what happens’.”