No love lost as Sharapova faces Serena Williams

Serena Williams: Winning run. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Serena Williams: Winning run. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Now it’s Maria Sharapova’s turn at Wimbledon to try to put an end to Serena Williams’ bid for the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam – and a fourth consecutive major title.

The No 1-seeded Williams takes a 26-match Grand Slam winning streak, which began at last year’s US Open, into today’s semi-final at the All England Club against No 4 seed Sharapova.

While the Russian has spent time atop the rankings, too, and owns five major titles of her own, this has not been much of a rivalry on the court.

Off the court? Well, that’s another story. Most infamously, in the run-up to Wimbledon two years ago, they exchanged barbs, via the media, connected to their respective love lives.

But with rackets in their hands, this has been a one-way street: Williams has won 17 of their 19 career meetings, including the past 16 in a row. Both of Sharapova’s victories in the series came all the way back in 2004; one of those was in the Wimbledon final.

“I haven’t had great success against her. I would love to change that around,” Sharapova said. “That’s how I look at it.”

Their most recent match-up came in the final of the Australian Open in January, when Williams won in straight sets for her 19th Grand Slam title. Williams then won the French Open last month for No 20. In the Open era of professional tennis, which began in 1968, only Steffi Graf has won more, 22.

Graf was also the last player to win all four majors in a single season, in 1988. If Williams can beat Sharapova, then beat either No 13 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland or No 20 Garbine Muguruza of Spain in Saturday’s final, the 33-year-old American would be three-quarters of the way to a true Grand Slam.

It hasn’t always come easily, however. Williams needed to pull out five three-setters on the red clay of Roland Garros, for example. And she has dealt with deficits on Wimbledon’s grass, too, dropping the first set both against Britain’s Heather Watson – who eventually was twice two points from victory – in the third round, and former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals.

“When she refuses to lose, she can find something inside her that helps her lift her level of tennis to heights that no one can compete with,” Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said after the comeback against Azarenka. If Williams replicates the level of play she produced against Azarenka, including 46 winners and only 12 unforced errors, “I don’t think anyone can compete,” Mouratoglou said.

“I mean,” he added, “that’s basically always the case for Serena.”

Poland’s Radwanska and Spanish first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Muguruza contest the other last four-tie. The pair have two wins apiece from their previous four meetings, but Muguruza has won both meetings in 2015.

Radwanska, 26, was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2013 and will be participating in her fourth major semi-final; it’s the first for Muguruza, 21.

“Experience is always very important, especially in a Grand Slam. But we’ll see,” Radwanska said. “Sometimes when you’re there for the first time, you also have nothing to lose.”