Article: Serena Meets Maria For Spot In Oz Open Final
Serena Meets Maria For Spot In Oz Open Final
Photo By Fred Mullane By Tennis Week
It’s been two years since she raised the Australian Open title trophy to complete the Serena Slam. Serena Williams was once so dominant tennis’ most coveted championships were engraved with her name while the rest of the WTA Tour looked up to see her at the top of every draw.
Times have changed and while Williams’ name no longer tops the Tour rankings, she’s suffering no identity crisis. The seventh-seeded Williams is convinced she’s still the world’s premier player and today she continued her quest to prove it to the rest of the world, slamming second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to the Australian Open semifinals for the second time in the past three years.
The 2003 Australian Open champion will face fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova for a spot in the final. In an all-Russian quarterfinal clash of Grand Slam champions, Sharapova scored a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victor over fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova to snap the U.S. Open champion’s 11-match Grand Slam win streak.
The Williams-Sharapova semifinal is a rematch of the Wimbledon and WTA Tour Championships finals, which Sharapova won.
"She’s playing really good tennis and she plays well when she’s behind," Williams said of Sharapova. "I’m happy to be here and will focus on the next match."
The six-time Grand Slam champion simply overwhelmed Mauresmo, whose game evaporated like the drops of sweat that seemed to dissipate as soon as they struck the searing surface of the court that was over 93 degrees.
Williams spent her formative years in Florida where the flat landscape is little more than a two-lane track for the ongoing drag race between heat and humidity. The heat greeting Williams this morning was a wake-up call for her controlled aggression.
"I woke up this morning and I felt like I had the heat on 80 degrees," Williams said. "I realized it was gonna be a very hot day and I was like ‘All right, keep the points short.’ "
Hitting off back foot, Mauresmo banged a backhand into top of net to surrender serve at 30 and hand Williams a 2-1 lead. In the next game, Mauresmo hit a full-stretch forehand drop volley that plopped onto Williams’ side of the court and gave Mauresmo double break point. Mauresmo was within a point of evening the set, but she never got any closer.
Responding with a backhand drop volley to save one break point, Williams saved the second with a strong two-shot combination. Backpedalling to track down a Mauresmo lob, Williams hit an overhead, quickly sidestepped to her right than hooked a short-angle forehand winner crosscourt that left Mauresmo lunging for air. Two points later, Williams whacked an ace out wide to hold for a 3-1 lead.
The four-point sequence effectively ended Mauresmo’s shot of scoring her first win over the former No. 1 in a major. Mauresmo, who was runner-up to Martina Hingis at the 1999 Australian Open, possesses the physical gifts to win a Grand Slam title, but her psyche is so fragile and sense of self-belief so shaky even her shadow seems to slump as if resigned to defeat.
Flailing a few shots off the frame of her Dunlop racquet, Mauresmo belted a ball into the seats in frustration. Unable to consistently keep the ball within the confines of the court, the French woman committed 27 unforced errors and dropped serve four times.
Stretching her lead to 5-1 with an ace down the middle, Williams closed out the opening set in 30 minutes with a service winner. In command on serve, Williams connected on 72 percent of her first serves, delivered five aces and did not drop serve in the match.
Playing her most controlled match of the tournament, Williams’ short-angle forehand was the key shot in the match. Hooking sharp-angled crosscourt forehands, Williams persistently pushed Mauresmo wide chasing that shot to create open-court opportunities. It’s a shot Williams would be wise to use against Sharapova, who thrives off pace, produces consistent depth, but does not move nearly as well as Williams. Sharapova is more comfortable moving laterally than she is coming forward and Williams could take her out of her comfort zone by working the short angles rather than trading baseline blasts.