Serena main­tains hex on Shara­pova to reach semis

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

Reign­ing cham­pion Serena Wil­liams ramped up the power in the se­cond set to van­quish fifth seed Maria Shara­pova for the 18th match in a row and reach the semi-fi­nals of the Aus­tralian Open with a 6-4 6-1 vic­tory on Tues­day.

Shara­pova broke the world num­ber one in the first game and mounted a stiff chal­lenge in the open­ing set but wilted in the se­cond to ex­tend a los­ing record that goes back 12 years.

Wil­liams said the Rus­sian brings out the best in her.

"When I play her, I know au­to­mat­i­cally I have to step up my game," Wil­liams said. "I think that makes me play bet­ter. When I'm forced to play bet­ter, I do well."

The gulf be­tween Wil­liams and Shara­pova, a for­mer num­ber one and five-times grand slam cham­pion, speaks vol­umes about the bal­ance of power in the women's game.

Wil­liams has reached the last four at Mel­bourne Park on six pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions and gone on to win the ti­tle ev­ery time.

On Tues­day's ev­i­dence, it looks like only ill­ness or in­jury can pre­vent the 34-year-old from re­peat­ing the feat and adding a 22nd ma­jor ti­tle to her col­lec­tion.

The Amer­i­can, who came into the tour­na­ment af­ter a four­month lay­off, twice had treat­ment for "food poi­son­ing is­sues" dur­ing breaks in the 92-minute re­match of last year's fi­nal.

Shara­pova handed back her early break with two dou­ble faults in game four but started the match well and of­fered a gen­uine test in the 55-minute open­ing stanza.

The Rus­sian showed char­ac­ter to storm back from 0-40 down to hold serve for 4-4 and was all over Wil­liams's serve in the next game, the Amer­i­can yelling "C'mon!" on suc­ces­sive points as she fi­nally held.

The match turned on the next game when Shara­pova fended off three set points de­spite fail­ing to get her first serve in be­fore Wil­liams con­verted the fourth af­ter a long rally with a vol­ley at the net.

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