If Maria Sharapova wanted to walk onto Centre Court Thursday and deliver a message to Serena Williams right off the bat, she did just that. Unfortunately, it was the worst possible message.
Sharapova double faulted three times in the very first game, lost her serve and any real hope that this Wimbledon semifinal match would be different than the other previous 16 straight defeats she’d suffered at Serena’s hands. The 17th loss in a row went down in the books as 6-2, 6-4, the 11th time in the last 12 meetings that Sharapova went down in straight sets.
There were many reasons for this. Sharapova’s first serve speed never climbed to her pre-shoulder surgery levels, now hovering around 100mph. Her second serves were erratic. She still couldn’t match Williams in terms of range or quickness. Sharapova was bullied in very similar fashion to the way she regularly bullies lesser opponents.
“I got a little nervous out there today, it’s been a long time (2012) since I’ve been this far in this tournament,” Williams said. “When she stepped up her game, I was able to step up mine.”
As a result, Williams will face the 21-year-old Spaniard, Garbine Muguruza, in a Saturday final that should be far more dynamic. Muguruza, who defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, has both the power and foot speed to give Williams a better battle – as she did in defeating Serena in straight sets at the 2014 French Open.
“This is the best final you can play,” Muguruza said. “To have Serena in the Wimbledon final is the hardest match you can have,” Muguruza said. “If you want to win a Grand Slam, when you dream, you say, ‘I want Serena in the final.’ She has so many good things. She’s stronger, good mentally, good shots, power, confident.”
For now, however, the Grand Slam dream lives on for Williams, who kept applying pressure on Sharpova with deep, hard serves and groundies. The decisive break arrived in the fifth game of the second set in typical style. Sharapova, backed up behind the baseline and given no time to set her feet, struck a wide backhand to give Williams a break point. Then Sharapova, shaken, double-faulted.
Serena sailed from there, as her mother, Oracene, and sister, Venus, watched in very relaxed fashion from the player’s box. There really is no suspense to this non-rivalry, just a question of whether Sharapova can extend these matches beyond an hour. She succeeded in that much, if nothing else. Williams required 1 hours and 19 minutes for this summary execution.
She finished out this match with a service winner and two aces, one delivered at 122mph.
The earlier semifinal had been far more competitive. Muguruza sprinted out to an easy first set victory before the cunning, smaller Radwanska started moving Muguruza around, playing the angles better.
With her powder-puff second serves, however, this was an uphill battle for the little Pole with no margin for error. In the sixth game of the third set, at 2-3, Radwanska put together a weak service game. Muguruza won the decisive break with a crosscourt backhand winner after a lengthy, varied rally. Muguruza sealed the match with a final winning forehand, then looked forward to her first major final.
Muguruza may become the next great player in tennis. She has that kind of potential. Expectations are high in Spain, land of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez.
“She actually beat me before, made me improve,” Williams said of Muguruza. “She has me on my toes.”