Wimbledon 2015: Serena Williams continues to dominate Maria Sharapova with semi-final victory

American still on target for calendar-year Grand Slam

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The Independent Online

A grudge and a rivalry are not the same. Whatever fury might exist between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, it could not find expression on the tennis court, so wide is the chasm that divides their respective talents.

The most enthralling women’s tennis of the last fortnight has come when Williams has descended from her obviously higher plain, handing the likes of Heather Watson and Victoria Azarenka a fighting chance.

Here, there were no such uncertainties. Against Sharapova, there never are... and it infuriates her. Instead, it was Sharapova who handed over opportunities that her opponent hardly required. Three double-faults came in the very first game, two in a row at deuce to lose her serve. From there the contest – if it could be called that – never raised itself above a formality.

“I always expect her to play the best tennis against myself and a couple of other elite players,” Sharapova said afterwards. “You have to come up with your best tennis, and I failed to do that.”

The Russian, though, still seemed bemused by the concept of shaking up her approach to playing the world No 1. “Like what?” Sharapova asked when asked if she had perhaps considered drastically changing her tactics. “As far as drastically, I’m not going to come out and become a serve-and-volleyer or a chip-and-charge type of player. No, you’re not going to see that from me.

 

Williams, at the end of what appeared to be her easiest victory of the fortnight, winning 6-2, 6-4, refused to accept the idea that beating Sharapova is now a walk in the park. “It’s never easy to beat such a great player who’s had such a wonderful career,” Williams said. It is 11 years now since Sharapova last beat Williams.

The same cannot be said of Garbine Muguruza, the 21-year-old 20th seed Williams will face in Saturday's final. That happened as recently as last year’s French Open when Williams was blown away  6-2, 6-2 in little over an hour, suffering the heaviest defeat of her career. For obvious reasons, it is a match Williams remembers well.

 

“That was an eye-opening loss for me,” she said. “Some losses you’re angry about, and some losses you learn from. That loss I think I learnt the most from in a long time.

“I got so much better after that loss. I worked on things. I didn’t see the results straight  away. But months later I started seeing the results more and more.

“I learnt so much from that. You know, sometimes as much as you don’t want it – I don’t want to lose to anyone at a Grand Slam – but that really was an experience that helped me say, ‘OK, Serena, you want to be the best, you’re going to have to do certain things and you’re going to have to improve certain things’. ”

There were moments when Sharapova crafted her way through a series of difficult points, transforming Williams’ power into clever angled slices. But she required all her finest ideas and execution just to survive. At no point did even the faintest glimmer of a chance of victory appear. Williams faced not a single break point and was entirely untroubled from start to finish.

Had their rivalry manifested itself in an actual sporting contest, it might have been as compelling as any. The coach they once shared, Patrick Mouratoglou, revealed as Serena’s lover by Sharapova herself, now never misses an opportunity to criticise the Russian. “Azarenka is the better player,” was his attempt this time. “I don’t think you’re ever going to hear nice words from him about me,” was her reply.

That David Beckham should have been looking on from the royal box was curiously fitting. The day before these championships began, Sharapova arrived for her press conference with her hair coiled and shimmering, fresh from a photoshoot.

Beckham never came even close to being the world’s fourth-best footballer, Sharapova’s current tennis ranking. But he, like her, has not been shy to capitalise on his marketable appearance.

That Sharapova’s £125m tennis earnings, most of it via endorsements, is double that of surely the women’s game’s greatest player, who has vanquished her over a decade, is a damning and revealing statistic. She is not in her league.

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