Serena & Sharapova's Historic Showdown
Published August 03, 2012 12:00
LONDON, England - Coming in they were the only active players with a Career Grand Slam - how fitting, then, that Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are the last two standing and one will get the Career Golden Grand Slam.
The No.3-seeded Sharapova was the first to advance to the final of the Olympic Tennis Event, winning an all-Russian semifinal with No.14-seeded Maria Kirilenko, 62 63. Sharapova was the clear aggressor in the match with five times as many winners as Kirilenko, 35 to 7 - and it certainly paid off as she won in just an hour and 29 minutes. Kirilenko threatened in the second set, breaking for a 3-2 lead, but Sharapova silenced it, winning four games in a row.
"Obviously it's tough to play a Russian on the other side of the net, but I'm happy that one of us can go for gold," Sharapova said. "I knew this was going to be a really tough match. My previous meeting against Maria was really tough - she had so many chances to win that match. And she has been having such a great grass court season, getting to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon.
"It's incredible, not only to be a part of this event and be an Olympian, but to put yourself in with an opportunity to go for gold. It's a really nice feeling."
Kirilenko was disappointed, but will still compete in the bronze medal match.
"It's always tough to lose but I can just take positives from this tournament," Kirilenko said. "I'm still in with a chance to compete for a medal. And she played great today - it was difficult to do anything, but I tried my best."
Sharapova has won each of the four Grand Slams once - the Australian Open in 2008, the French Open this year, Wimbledon in 2004 and the US Open in 2006 - and will now try to become just the second woman ever to complete a Career Golden Grand Slam, after Steffi Graf (who won gold at Seoul in 1988).
"Baby steps I guess," Sharapova said. "It's been amazing to achieve what I have achieved. Obviously growing up you have big dreams and hopes of winning your certain favorite tournaments. I've been fortunate to win all the Grand Slams, and obviously this is my first Olympics, so I'm just thrilled to be in the finals."
Sharapova will also return to No.1 in the world if she wins the gold medal.
Awaiting her in the gold medal match will be the No.4-seeded Williams, who absolutely crushed No.1-seeded Victoria Azarenka in a 63-minute semifinal later in the day, 61 62. Williams hit 33 winners - including 16 aces and 16 more winners off the ground - to just five unforced errors, a whopping +28 differential. Azarenka was a more modest -2, with 12 winners and 14 unforced.
"When you play the best in the world, you have to play better. That's what I did," Williams said. "I warmed up probably five times waiting for the match before me to finish, but I can wait with the best of them - I've been waiting my whole life. I have a lot of patience. That's the only thing I have patience with though."
Williams has now won 33 of her last 34 matches, and her win over Azarenka was her 14th career win over a reigning World No.1, the third most all-time behind Martina Navratilova (who had 18) and Lindsay Davenport (who had 15). The American has now also won her last 12 matches against Top 5 players, 11 of those in straight sets (Agnieszka Radwanska pushed her to three in the Wimbledon final this year, though Williams originally led 61 42).
And like Sharapova, Williams is also chasing the Career Golden Grand Slam, having already won 14 Grand Slam titles: five Australian Opens (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010), one French Open (2002), five Wimbledons (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012) and three US Opens (1999, 2002 and 2008).
Williams leads Sharapova in their head-to-head series, 8-2, and has won their last seven meetings in a row (including the last two by 61 63 scorelines).
"I really look forward to playing Maria. I haven't played her in a while," Williams said. "We always have good matches. She has improved so much. It will be interesting. She's ranked higher than I am so, again, I have nothing to lose."
Azarenka and Kirilenko will play the bronze medal match. They are tied in their head-to-head, 2-2, though Azarenka has won their last two in straights.