Serena Williams started strong and then hung on to beat rival Maria Sharapova 6-2, 7-6(7) to reach the Brisbane finals where she’ll play on Saturday Victoria Azarenka in a battle of the top two ranked women’s players in the world.
“The quality of the match was very high, especially from Maria’s end, so it was good for me to come up with a win in that match,” Williams said. “We’re both very strong returners, and personally I couldn’t get a first serve in today. My first serve percentage was really low. I didn’t serve nearly as well as I served in my first two matches. So that obviously played a little bit of a factor during the match today.
“But it was fun. Some of those points were really long and the intensity was so high. Maria was hitting extremely hard and I was retrieving a lot. So was she. My gosh, she was getting so many balls back.”
Serena has now beaten Sharapova 14 straight times to lead overall 15-2 in this series.
Despite the loss, it was still a promising week for Sharapova who playing in her first tournament since a shoulder injury in Cincinnati.
“I had a few missed chances,” Sharapova said. “It was tough being a small break up in that tie-breaker and also missing that forehand just a little bit wide. But overall I was happy I could compete at this level in my third match back. I really have to take the positives out of this, because I have been struggling for a few months. This was a good sign for me. It was definitely a good week and good test for me.”
Azarenka needed three sets to turn away former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Serena leads their rivalry 13-3 but the pair slit four meetings last year.
“It’s a good rivalry,” Williams said. “She’s so intense on court, and off court she’s so cool. So that’s what makes the rivalry the best, is because when you step on the court I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me, and we fight like crazy. When it’s over, it’s over. There’s a lot of mutual respect there.”
Serena has won her last 21 matches and she’s won 15 of her last 17 matches vs. Top 5 players, the two losses coming to Azarenka.
In the Auckland final, after receiving a walkover from Jamie Hampton Serena’s sister Venus will bid for her first title since 2012 Luxembourg as she takes on Ana Ivanovic. Venus has won 8 of 9 against the Serb.
“We all know what Venus is capable of, and she’s been showing some good form this week too,” Ivanovic said. “I’ve struggled with both Serena and Venus in the past. They both have a big serve, and it can be overwhelming at times. But over the years you get used to it and become more calm. There’s no doubt it’ll be a very, very tough match, but it’s a matter of still doing the things I’ve worked on.
“We’ve had some tough matches in the past and I’m really looking forward to that final challenge.”
In the Shenzhen final, Li Na will meet Peng Shuai.
The two biggest stars in tennis are still alive in men’s play this week. Last night Roger Federer rolled into the semifinals of Brisbane with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Marinko Matosevic.
“Tonight I felt very good against Matosevic who can play very dangerous,” said Federer. “He’s got a good enough serve and return as well. But I was able to control most of the match except the very beginning. For that, I’m very happy.”
Next for Federer is a first-time meeting with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. In the first semifinal Australian Lleyton Hewitt meets second seed Kei Nishikori.
“He plays very aggressive on the hard courts,” said Federer. “I remember seeing him play really well in Cincinnati, which is similar to here. I remember seeing him play well at the Aussie Open last year when he made the quarters, I think. So he can definitely bring a big game to the court, especially with his serve and forehand. He can really dictate play.”
In Doha, Rafael Nadal struggled but survived a strong test from German qualifier Peter Gojowyzck 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“The positive thing is I am in the finals the first week of the season without arriving here with big preparation,” said Nadal. “Without playing my best, I was able to find a solution. It’s true that I finished the match playing better than what I started. That’s always a positive thing, because that means that mentally I was prepared to find solutions.”
In the final tomorrow Rafa will meet Gael Monfils. The Frenchman who has twice beaten Rafa before both times coming in Doha, eased past Daniel brands.
And in the Chennai final, Stanislas Wawrinka, who collected his 300th career win, will play Marcel Gronollers. The Spaniard Granollers overcame a 5-1 third set deficit to beat Benoit Paire in the semifinals.
“Someone told me before I came to Chennai that I could achieve the milestone this week,” said Wawrinka. “It is special, after a long time on the tour, and I am really happy. I was focused on the match, which was not easy.”
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