French Open Saturday: Maria's Mission
Published June 07, 2013 12:00
Court Philippe Chatrier
 Serena Williams (USA #1) vs.  Maria Sharapova (RUS #2)
Head-to-head: Williams leads 13-2
Judging by her demeanor on court and conversations with the media off it, doubt is a feeling that rarely afflicts Maria Sharapova. The Russian's unbreakable inner belief and unquenchable thirst for self improvement has seen her scale every summit in the tennis world over the past decade or so.
These qualities will stand her in good stead for the challenge that lies ahead on Saturday afternoon, namely toppling her nemesis, Serena Williams. Not since winning the WTA Championships in 2004 has Sharapova got the better of the great American, during which time she has picked up just three sets in 12 matches.
At her best, which she produced in patches during her semifinal with Victoria Azarenka, the Russian has the power and shotmaking to live with Williams. To become the first woman in six years to defend the French Open, though, she will have to maintain - and possibly surpass - this level for three potentially grueling sets.
Paramount to her success will be the serve. Sharapova and her coach Thomas Hogstedt will know the first stage in solving their Williams-shaped conundrum is neutralizing the return; in Paris, Williams has broken serve 28 times and was particularly deadly in her 46-minute semifinal masterclass against Sara Errani.
While it has not all been plain sailing - she was a point away from going a double break down in the final set of her quarterfinal with Svetlana Kuznetsova - Williams has had the air of a woman on mission this fortnight. In six matches, the World No.1 has hit a staggering 176 winners, with just 100 unforced errors coming by way of return, and, 11 years after her first, is tantalizingly close to a second Roland Garros crown.
Williams: "Oh, it will really feel special. I have never played Maria here actually, so it will be our first time playing here. It will be a great match for both of us, I think. We're both doing so well and we both really want to win. We're both really excited to be this far. I think it's going to be a really great match."
Sharapova: "Well I'd be lying if I said my record against Serena didn't bother me. It wouldn't be a competitive statement if I said it didn't. I'd love to change it around. Again, I'm putting myself in a position to face her. Whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try to do something different, and hopefully it will work this time. I'm proud of how I came through this tournament. I've given myself a chance to face the favorite."
Road To The Final
First Round: d. Anna Tatishvili, 60 61 (0:51)
Second Round: d. Caroline Garcia, 61 62 (1:02)
Third Round: d. Sorana Cirstea, 60 62 (1:01)
Fourth Round: d. Roberta Vinci, 61 63 (1:10)
Quarterfinals: d. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 61 36 63 (1:57)
Semifinals: d. Sara Errani, 60 61 (0:46)
First Round: d. Hsieh Su-Wei, 62 61 (0:54)
Second Round: d. Eugenie Bouchard, 62 64 (1:30)
Third Round: d. Zheng Jie, 61 75 (1:45)
Fourth Round: d. Sloane Stephens, 64 63 (1:29)
Quarterfinals: d. Jelena Jankovic, 06 64 63 (1:58)
Semifinals: d. Victoria Azarenka, 61 26 64 (2:10)
For more on the final, see our Match Notes in the Press Center.