Wimbledon 2015: Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova to reach 25th Major final

Serena Williams thrashes Maria Sharapova 6-2 6-4 to reach the Wimbledon final against Spain's Garbine Muguruza

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

The tall, talented, and popular Maria Sharapova burst onto Wimbledon’s stage like a breath of fresh air at just 17 years old to beat the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-4, to claim the title. She would then go on to beat her again at the end of the year, this time in three sets, at the WTA Championships.

Sharapova would also become one of the rare women in the Open era, along with Williams, to win the tennis Grand Slam, when she claimed the one missing title at Roland Garros in 2012.

But in decade of trying since those two Williams victories, Sharapova had never again beaten the American—now up to 16 straight losses. Indeed in that span of disappointment, Sharapova had only managed to win three sets from the woman who had become her nemesis. How could she solve what began to look like an unsolvable problem?

If anything, the challenge only seemed to grow. Sharapova had improved her speed, her movement, and her variety off the ground, and had even transformed herself into a Grand Slam winner on clay. She would be back at No2 in the rankings after her run this week, too, but there above her, with just one match-loss so far this year and well over two unbroken years at the top of the rankings, was Williams.

Not that Sharapova has been the only woman to find herself on the losing end against the remarkable 33-year-old American. Now going for her sixth Wimbledon title, her 21st Major overall, along with that rarest of achievements, the calendar Grand Slam, Williams’ desire to win, and the work necessary to translate that desire into results, has remained formidable.

And as Serena took on Sharapova for a 20th time, she did so with a 24-3 success rate in Major semi-finals. Yes, the odds were certainly stacked up for the Russian, but the pressure on Williams was surely growing, too, to maintain such a high-profile dominance?

Well if she did feel the weight of expectation, it did not show. She looked as calm as she had sounded in telling the BBC after beating Victoria Azarenka: “I really don’t have anything to lose. I’m just going to try to win a match and if I don’t there’s always next time.”

Sharapova helped her along, too, with a shocker of an opening game. Three double faults made it almost inevitable that Williams would break her. The American was not immune from a few butterflies, though: She too hit a double fault, but compensated with two aces and held for 2-0.

Sharapova survived another break point in the third game, but she could not survive the next in the fifth, and a love hold took Williams 5-1. After just 33 minutes, the set was done, 6-2.

The score told no lies: This had been a tour de force from Williams thus far, with 12 winners and just seven errors against one of the fiercest hitters from the back of the court. Sharapova had managed to hit just four balls past Williams.

There were signs in the second set that Sharapova had upped her aggression, and she countered the Williams power with some huge strikes of her own. When these two titans of women’s tennis go head-to-head, the pace and the power can be astonishing—and the crowd responded with gasps.

Even so, such is the athleticism of Williams that the Russian forced only five balls beyond the American’s reach. Under such constant pressure to go for her shots, Sharapova double faulted on break point in the fifth game—and then saw Williams hold to love for 4-2.

The packed Centre Court clearly felt sympathy for Sharapova’s plight, and cheered on her efforts in saving three break points in the seventh game, and encouraged her again as she went 30-0 on Williams’ serve with two huge forehands. But no matter the effort, Williams hit back with four straight points.

Credit then to Sharapova for resisting match-point at 3-5, especially as it came courtesy of another double fault, but it merely delayed the inevitable. Three winning serves and Williams was into the final, 6-4, after 79 minutes of near flawless power tennis, a tally of 29 winners, nine errors, and just four points dropped on her first serve.

Williams will now player in her 25th Grand Slam final, though afterwards commented: “It has been a long time since I’ve been this far in the tournament,” though of course everything is relative. She lost in the third round last year and the fourth the year before, but won here in 2012, 2010, 2009… and more. She has, in fact, lost only four of those previous finals.

But she went on to pay her final opponent, Garbine Muguruza, the highest of compliments.

“She actually beat me before!” She referred to the shock second-round upset at last year’s French Open. The young Spaniard also took the first set in their Australian Open meet this year.

And Williams added: “She made me improve, had me on my toes!”

And that, from a 20-time Grand Slam champion is quite something. They will face off for a fourth time on Saturday, on the biggest stage of all. Tune in to see if Muguruza can upset Williams again—just as Sharapova did 11 years ago.

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