BRISBANE, Australia - Two of the biggest names in women's tennis - and just women's sports in general - will square off in an absolute blockbuster semifinal clash at the Brisbane International.
Maria Sharapova, the No.3 seed at the Premier-level event, was the first to move through, battling back from a set and a break down at 64 10 to beat the always-dangerous Kaia Kanepi in three, 46 63 62.
"She's a really tough opponent," Sharapova said of Kanepi. "I've had fairly good success against her in the past, but she's had her bit of success. She's won this tournament before, so I knew that she would be able to play on this court and she enjoys it. For me it was a slow start. I wasn't very sharp in the beginning. I'm happy I pulled it through, and at this stage it's a good match for me to get through."
The No.1-seeded Williams followed with a 63 63 win over No.9 seed Dominika Cibulkova. Williams' serve was on fire - she didn't even lose a point on serve in the first set, and she finished with 12 aces, including three in a row at one point in the second set. She saved the only break point she faced.
"It felt really good," Williams said. "She was returning really well. She stays so low to the ground and does so many good things, especially off the ground. She's so powerful. So of all opponents, I definitely wouldn't have expected to do so well on serve against her. But I was able to serve really well today."
And so, the two megastars - the current World No.1 and a former World No.1, both holders of a Career Grand Slam - will now square off against each other in the semifinals. And the rivalry swings heavily in one direction, with Williams leading Sharapova in the head-to-head, 14-2. She has won their last 13.
"I haven't had a lot of success against her in the past," Sharapova said. "But it's the first tournament of the year. I came here wanting to play as many matches as I could and wanting to play the best. There's no substitute for getting ready for a Grand Slam than competing against the best. She's been on a roll the last couple of years with her level. I competed against her a few times last year; didn't work.
"You always hope that you can go out and give yourself a chance to do better next time."
Sharapova has beaten World No.1s seven times, but never a No.1-ranked Williams - those seven wins include two over Lindsay Davenport, one over Amélie Mauresmo, one over Justine Henin, one over Caroline Wozniacki and two over Victoria Azarenka. She is 0-4 against a No.1-ranked Williams.
The other two quarterfinals took place later in the day, with No.4 seed Jelena Jankovic rebounding from dropping a 73-minute first set and grinding past No.5 seed Angelique Kerber, 67(8) 63 61, and No.2 seed Victoria Azarenka missing out on eight match points in the second set - three at 5-4, five more in the tie-break - and regrouping to beat Stefanie Voegele after a runaway third set, 64 67(7) 61.
Azarenka leads Jankovic in their head-to-head, 5-4, though Jankovic won the last meeting.