Shara­pova con­fi­dent she can down nemesis Wil­liams in Aus­tralian Open fi­nal


IT must be an odd feel­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the high of reach­ing an­other Grand Slam fi­nal, to be so close to glory, and yet, when you see who is on the other side of the net, still so far away.

Maria Shara­pova would never ad­mit that is what was in her head af­ter world num­ber one Serena Wil­liams held off ris­ing Amer­i­can Madi­son Keys in the sec­ond semi-fi­nal to once again be block­ing her path.

But hav­ing not beaten Wil­liams since the Wim­ble­don fi­nal of 2004 — a run which in­cludes two Grand Slam fi­nals — Shara­pova must fear the worst.

“My con­fi­dence should be pretty high go­ing into a fi­nal of a Grand Slam no mat­ter who I am fac­ing and whether I have had a ter­ri­ble record against some­one,” she said af­ter her 6-2, 6-3 win over fel­low Rus­sian Eka­te­rina Makarova yes­ter­day. “I got there for a rea­son. I be­long in that spot. I will do ev­ery­thing I can to get the ti­tle.”

But per­haps not. Hav­ing sur­vived two match points in the sec­ond round, the five-times Grand Slam cham­pion may just be­lieve this one was writ­ten in the stars, that fi­nally she can get past Wil­liams to claim a sec­ond Aus­tralian Open crown.

But to do that, even though Wil­liams has been strug­gling to shake off a virus, Shara­pova is go­ing to have to pro­duce one of the best per­for­mances of her ca­reer — and she knows it.

Shara­pova said: “Her power and her ag­gres­sive­ness have al­ways made me a lit­tle bit too ag­gres­sive, maybe go­ing for a lit­tle bit more than I had to. She is great at mak­ing play­ers hit that shot that you do not nec­es­sar­ily have to go for. It has been a re­ally dif­fi­cult match-up for me — but I am a com­peti­tor. I will go out and I will do ev­ery­thing I can to try to change that re­sult around.”

Do­ing it is go­ing to be an­other mat­ter, not least since victory for Wil­liams would give her a 19th Grand Slam, tak­ing her past Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in the all-time list. A five-time cham­pion in Australia, Wil­liams had not been be­yond the quar­ter-fi­nals in each of the past three years.

“I have won this tour­na­ment sev­eral times,” said Wil­liams af­ter beat­ing teenager Keys 7-6, 6-2. “I do not have to go out there and have an­other ti­tle.

“I want it but it is not life or death for me. I think that helps me re­lax.

“She ab­so­lutely has noth­ing to lose and I have noth­ing to lose, so it will be fun.”

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