Maria Sharapova said she had not yet had time to think about a game plan for her Australian Open final here, but promised: “I’ll work on it.”
The Russian will need to do just that. Her opponent, Serena Williams, has beaten her 15 times in a row, a sequence that dates back to 2004, the year when Sharapova beat the American in the Wimbledon final at the age of 17.
What makes that head-to-head record so remarkable is the fact that Williams and Sharapova are the top two players in the world rankings and have been the most successful players in the women’s game in recent years.
They won their semi-finals in emphatic fashion, Williams beating her fellow American, Madison Keys, 7-6, 6-2, while in the other match Sharapova beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-2 in an all-Russian confrontation.
Sharapova, who cannot reclaim the world No 1 spot from Williams even if she wins the final, insisted that her confidence going into Saturday's showdown would be “pretty high”.
Asked what she found most difficult about Williams’ game, Sharapova said: “Her power and her aggressiveness, I think that’s always made me a little bit too aggressive, maybe going for a little bit more than I had to. She’s great at making players hit that shot that you don’t necessarily have to go for.”
Williams, not surprisingly, loves taking on Sharapova. “I think my game matches up well against her,” she said. “I love playing her. I think it’s fun. I love her intensity. For whatever reason, I love playing her. I just have the time of my life.”
Both women have had their difficulties during the tournament. Williams has been under the weather with a virus in recent days, while Sharapova had to save two match points against a qualifier in the second round.
“Maria is playing great,” Williams said. “She’s in the tournament only because she’s a fighter and only because she refuses to give up. It’s a new match. She has nothing to lose, once again. She has only things to gain. And I feel that way, too. I’ve won this tournament several times. I don’t have to go out there and have another title. I want it, but it’s not life or death for me. I think that helps me to relax.”
Williams will be chasing her 19th Grand Slam title, while Sharapova is seeking her sixth. It is seven years since Sharapova won her only Australian Open crown. Williams won the title in all five of her previous appearances in the final, the most recent of which was five years ago.
The world No 1 said the final line-up was “great for women’s tennis”. She added: “I didn’t expect to get to the final of this tournament when I first got here because I wasn’t playing great. So I’m happy to be here.”Reuse content