The coach and lover of Serena Williams sounded a little cruel when he pointed out that this couldn’t be considered a rivalry if it was always the same player winning. Serena Williams was far more cruel in proving Patrick Mouratoglou so conclusively right.
What must go through Maria Sharapova’s mind when she stands across a net from the toned and beautiful queen of women’s tennis? One can only conclude it is sheer panic having watched Serena Williams win her 17th straight match against the Russian, battering her 6-2 6-4 and taking her overall record to 18-2. The Sharapova wait for a win is 11 years and counting.
How the younger woman must hate that, this 28-year-old of intensity and professionalism who is repeatedly made to look so flaky. How the older pro must love it, considering she relishes beating no-one in quite the way she relishes beating Sharapova.
It was on this same Centre Court that Serena Williams took the 2012 Olympic gold medal, beating Sharapova 6-0, 6-1. That is a brutal as these matches got. But it is telling that in only three of her many defeats against Williams has Sharapova even won a set. She simply crumbles.
On Thursday, it boiled down to a tale of two servers – Serena Williams was up to the task of delivering hard and accurate balls and Sharapova was not. She double faulted to give away the first game of the match and Williams closed the show about 75 minutes later with three aces and a service winner.
In all, Sharapova took only 13 points off the Williams delivery and created not a single break point. Serena Williams created nine, took three and is now one step from completing the Serena Slam. Only Garbine Muguruza stands in her way now after the Spaniard overcame Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 3-6 6-3 in the earlier semi-final. Serena Williams though is a remarkable athlete, one who relishes these kinds of battles between minds against Sharapova.
This one was never in doubt as they went head-to-head on Centre Court.
The 33-minute first set was particularly brutal, a demonstration if any where needed of what Serena Williams can do to Sharapova’s mind. The Russian was shaky, unsure and frequently unable to consistently throw a ball in the air and hit it. Her toss, to quote Andy Murray’s former coach Brad Gilbert, was ‘all over the place.’
The rest of the motion was no less shaky. The very first game of the match was lost with back-to-back double faults. Sharapova walked to the chair with her head down; Serena Williams held the stare.
A second break for 4-1 all but wrapped up the set. At its close, Sharapova had hit only four winners and nine unforced errors.
But as compliant as she was – or, perhaps, intimidated – Serena Williams was excellent. Victoria Azarenka highlighted after her quarter-final defeat that the 33-year-old is still more than capable of serving elite players off the court. Here, she hit seven aces in that first set and conceded only six points off her deliveries.
When it was done, 6-2 as it happens, Serena Williams briefly clenched a fist. She didn’t need to be at her growling, scowling, posturing best.
It wasn’t until the third game of the second set that Sharapova, at 15-0 up, hit a beautiful drop shot from the back of the court to show some of her touch. She called on herself to ‘come on’ at the end of the game, but it would take more than some routine cajoling to turn this match. Replacing Serena Williams’s racket with a ping pong bat might have at least made it more level.
But even then, Sharapova would have to serve. And that is something she never quite perfected on Thursday. A double fault at 2-2 gave Serena Williams a break and with her own serve, far more assured that it is, the advantage was never going to be conceded. When Serena Williams fell 0-30 behind at 4-3 up, she responded with a service winner and a big forehand. The game was hers moments later.
And the match, closed with four devastating serves and a stare. She is close to making history; Sharapova must be ready to blow.