Serena forced into top gear to tame Sharapova

Those ingrates to whom the miracle of the Williams sisters has lost its freshness will have been especially vexed that Maria Sharapova, one of the only females in the species competent to interrupt their duopoly here, should be flung into the path of Serena as early as the fourth round. By the same token, the seeding committee will be the toast of those privileged yesterday to witness what would have made a pretty good final.

Sharapova, still groping her way back from shoulder surgery, served notice that she will soon be restored to the denouements of Grand Slams, rather than a role as best supporting actress. As for Williams – well, her 7-6, 6-4 success was just frightening.

She catapulted five aces in her first seven service points and broke Sharapova's serve at only the second attempt. But the Russian responded magnificently, prising open a break point in the very next game – and squeezing through by dint of something that sooner resembled an act of self-defence than a return. Williams, perhaps taken aback, prodded into the net.

From that moment every slight fissure of opportunity had to be treated as an abyss. Every second serve thickened the hot air with tension. Williams was putting such a ruthless emphasis on power that Sharapova's notorious screams for once seemed perfectly proportionate.

In turn, Sharapova was harnessing that familiar, demure address – arching with all the venom of a swan asking another swan to pass the salt – to increasingly violent effect. It all made for heavy, staccato exchanges, and such rallies might have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The logical consummation was a tiebreaker, and it duly stretched 20 points. Williams opened with a 122 mph howitzer; Sharapova responded with an ace of her own, but then double-faulted and missed consecutive opportunities to finish off the next point at the net. It is a measure of the renewal in her game that she clawed back to three set points; and of its lingering frailties, that she ended up yielding Williams the chance she would take by again double-faulting.

Perhaps the ordeal was taking its toll, for she suddenly gift-wrapped a service break for Williams in the third game of the second set, and her opponent never let her back in thereafter. But it would be uncharitable to talk of unforced errors. Against Williams in this kind of form, there is no such thing as an "unforced" error. And Sharapova had met the No 1 seed on mutually agreed terms, positive to the last in both tactics and demeanour.

"I had a few looks at her serve," she said. "But even when you have a good look and the ball's coming at you in the 120s, it's tough to do much with it. I gave her a good run for her money. I'm in a much better spot than last year."

Williams was avenging Sharapova's breakthrough success in the 2004 final, and now remains on course for a third consecutive showdown with her sister, Venus, who likewise worked over a tough, confident opponent in Jarmila Groth. But Venus, too, proved able to summon more for the big points in winning through 6-4, 7-6.

Asked about the assets she brings to grass, she gave an instructive answer. "On this surface, you can't pretend," she said. "You have to really be a good player. You have to be able to play the tough points. You can't just keep the balls in play and maybe outlast your opponent. [You] try to make something happen."

It is to the credit of the women's game – routinely maligned as it is – that yesterday it was not just the Williams sisters who did that, but both their opponents as well.

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss