(AP) Sharapova bids to end to poor run against Williams
By JEROME PUGMIRE
AP Sports Writer
Maria Sharapova was not even an adult the last time she beat Serena Williams, it was so long ago.
That was at the WTA Championships, when the Russian was just over 17 1-2 years old. Nearly nine years later, she’ll try to stop Williams from winning her 16th Grand Slam title in the French Open final on Saturday, where Sharapova has to beat overwhelming odds to defend her title.
Williams leads 13-2 against Sharapova and has won their last 12 matches on all surfaces.
Comparing Thursday’s semifinals, the odds of that happening look extremely thin. Williams crushed last year’s finalist Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1, spending nearly three times less on court than Sharapova did in her gritty 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 win against Victoria Azarenka.
Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final, but in their past 11 matches has won a measly total of two sets. One of those was in the final at Key Biscayne, Florida, in March. But you have to go back to April 2008 for the one before.
They are the top two women in the rankings and seedings, No. 1 Williams and No. 2 Sharapova.
But before their showdown, the men’s semifinals will be decided on Friday, with the tournament champion largely expected to be the winner of the highly anticipated clash between seven-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain and top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
It will be the 35th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic, last year’s beaten finalist, with Nadal up 19-15, but with Djokovic winning eight out of the past 11 encounters.
After that, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes on fourth-seeded David Ferrer, with the Spaniard leading 2-1. The sixth-seeded Tsonga is trying to become the first Frenchman since Yannick Noah in 1983 to win a Grand Slam.
Williams’ winning streak stands at 30 matches _ longest single-season streak on tour since 2000 _ and is 20-3 in major semifinals.
The 31-year-old Williams has other factors working in her favor, too.
She has been doing everything in her power to get the fans on her side for the final. After her victory, the American once again answered questions in French, and even said “J’aime le public” _ I love the crowd.
She also reminded them how long it has been since she won at Roland Garros. In somewhat muddled French, but with a good accent, she said: “Je reste encore apres 11 ans, c’est tres magnifique pour moi.”
But the point was made, because it roughly translated as “I’m still around after 11 years, it’s quite magnificent for me.”
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario will present the women’s winner with her trophy, and six-time Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt will present the men’s trophy on Sunday. But judging by the speed of Williams’ win, perhaps it should be the other way around.
She won in 46 minutes _ roughly enough time to watch one half of a soccer match at the nearby Parc des Princes, home to the Paris Saint-Germain club.
For Errani, now 0-6 against Williams, even winning a game was cause for celebration _ almost like scoring a goal, in fact. She threw her arms in the air when she took the fourth game of the second set, and the crowd greeted it with a sympathetic roar.
Sharapova took 2 hours, 10 minutes and five match points to beat Azareknka _ the equivalent of a full soccer match plus extra time.
They shrieked on every piercingly loud exchange, prompting one spectator to yell “Come on, Monica!” at Sharapova, referring to one of the game’s great grunters, Monica Seles.